Richard Williams
Richard Williams
MADISON-Richard Williams doesn't think he deserves to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum this weekend. At least not by himself.

The Madison resident, Mississippi State University's second-winningest coach in school history, said this week he owes much of his success to the players, assistants and administrators who helped him along the way.

"Obviously, I'm honored," Williams said. "But I sure do have a lot of people to thank.

"When it comes to coaches, they aren't being honored for something they have done. For an athlete like Steve McNair or Ruthie Bolton (two of Williams 2014 induction classmates), they are being honored for something they did. They scored touchdowns, made baskets or became the world's fastest athlete."

Williams added that he can think of several bosses and assistants he's had that could have qualified for the same honor, if the circumstances had been different.

"I know lots of many coaches who will never be honored like this simply because they weren't fortunate enough to coach great players," he said. "The coach is just a small part of it."

That said, Williams was no small part of what happened in 1996, when he led his MSU Bulldogs firs to the NCAA Tournament, then to the only Final Four appearance in Mississippi history.

Mention the names of some of the players on that roster - - Marcus Bullard, Darryl Wilson, Dontae Jones, Russell Walters and Eric Dampier, just to start - and the memories for any long-time Bulldog fan come rushing back.

But that talent didn't guarantee State a trip to the Final Four. They earned it on the court, under Williams' steady leadership.

The 1995-1996 season started fast for Mississippi State, which jumped out to a 4-0 start before falling to Arkansas-Little Rock 70-68 in Starkville on Dec. 9. William's Bulldogs responded by rattling off wins over Southern Miss, UL Monroe, Oregon State, Nebraska, LSU and Florida (all on the road).

But when his team dropped back-to-back SEC games to Kentucky and Alabama, Williams sensed he needed to do something for his team, which he could see had identity issues.

"We talked about Dr. King and what he stood for," Williams told the Hall of Fame when his induction was announced in April. "I asked them how many of them had actually read the entire 'I have a dream' speech. Only two of three of them had, and one of those was Whit Hughes, who had gone to Jackson Prep. I told them what I knew about Dr. King, how he believed that you could be different and have different ideas but still get along.

"I remember pointing out that some of them liked country music and some liked rap and that none of them were necessarily wrong. My overall message was that, in the end, we had to be a team."

Williams' message hit home. Players began to split up the duties of choosing locker room music, and learned more about each other each day. As they did, the chemistry issues disappeared, and the Bulldogs finished the season 19-7, won the SEC West crown and curb-stomped Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky in consecutive games, by an average of more than 12 points, to win the SEC Tournament.

Those Bulldogs went on to beat Virginia Commonwealth, Princeton, UConn and Cincinnati to earn their spot in the Final Four before turnovers doomed them against Syracuse. (The Orange went on to lose the national championship game to Kentucky, a team Mississippi State had beaten by double-digits just 20 days earlier in the SEC Championship.)

Williams will get to relive those memories, and many more, at his Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Induction Friday night at the Jackson Hilton on County Line Rd. He said many of his former players are planning to attend.

"This is a special honor for people who are involved in athletics in the state of Mississippi," Williams said. "And it's a great class that I'm going in with. I'm really looking forward to the festivities."

Other 2014 honorees include olympians Calvin Smith and Ruthie Bolton, Ole Miss football legends Deuce McAllister and Doug Cunningham and Mt. Olive-native, former Heisman Trophy-finalist and Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve "Air" McNair.