Under the guise of another meaning of attending, Greg Williams’ wife, Sandi, brought the Auburn equestrian founder and coach to the 2021 State of the City Address at the Gogue Performing Arts Center.
At the address, Auburn Mayor Ron Anders presented the city’s Lamplighter Awards to six honorees, with six-time national championship winner Williams being one of the recipients.
“I was floored,” Williams said. “I was shocked. I knew most of the people that were being introduced for those awards, and I was just so thrilled and happy for them. My wife had used a completely different ruse as to why I was there.”
The Lamplighter awards, now in their third year, are given out to those in the Auburn community who “quietly light the lamps for our City.” Williams, who founded Auburn’s equestrian program in 1996 and has since been the head coach, was enthralled to be included among the winners.
“Ron Anders is a good friend of mine, well, since grade school,” Williams said. “And I was really glad to see him up there speaking, but when he got to the awards I was just happy to watch everybody get theirs. It just blew me away to be included in that group.”
Before coming to Auburn to create the equestrian program, Williams had been involved in the horse business all his life. The Paragould, Arkansas native began his career with horses at a young age, participating in rodeos and showing horses.
After graduating from Auburn in 1986 with a degree in Animal Sciences, Williams continued his career as a professional in the horse industry. However, that would change less than a decade later when his alma mater called and asked him to come back.
“I didn’t want to quit being a professional when Auburn called and said they wanted to do something more with the horse program,” Williams said. “They asked me if I would come back.
“Again, I didn’t want to quit being a pro at that time, but I thought, 'Man, if I could raise my kids in Auburn and work for Auburn University in their horse program, that’d be a dream come true.'”
“A dream come true” it was for Williams, who is now in his 27th season as head coach of the equestrian program. Auburn’s success under Williams has put the Tigers, whose equestrian program was elevated to a varsity sport in 2002, among the top programs in the NCEA.
“It’s a different situation,” said Williams about then versus now. “But we try to keep what I call ‘old school grit,’ hard work and accountability. We talk about the traditions of the past that we have to maintain, and we also have to work for the future.”
When asked about what it means to see his work affect the Auburn community, Williams described it as hard to believe.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to believe. (I told my team) ‘I just wish all of you could hear from all the townspeople, and even people from across the country that are watching what our team does,’” Williams said. “The compliment goes to the girls on the team.”
Despite not being from Auburn originally, the six-time national championship winning coach said that the Loveliest Village on the Plains is now his hometown.
“I wasn’t originally from Auburn, but it is very much mine and my wife’s hometown,” Williams said. “We absolutely love it, and Auburn is what made me quit being a professional and get back, just so I could raise my kids (here). That means the world to me.”
Williams shared similar sentiments on what it means to have Auburn recognized nationally for its equestrian program.
“To have the sport that I love in the town and university that I love known all across the country — you know, all of these riders across the country know about Auburn and know about equestrian now — that means the world to me,” Williams said.