Walt Williamson: Cal State LA track and field coach

Men’s, women’s head track coach; athletic director, university Hall of Fame inductee; mentored 5 national champions, 52 All-Americans

LOS ANGELES — Walt Williamson, who coached Track and Field at California State University Los Angeles for many years and served as the university’s athletic director, died Dec. 14, 2020.

Williamson became a successful track and field coach at Cal State University, Los Angeles, mentoring five individual national champions, and 52 All-Americans, as well as guiding the Golden Eagles to the 1978 NCAA Division II team title and three other top-10 finishes. He also was director of athletics at CSULA from 1981-82, and an assistant football coach and physical education instructor.

From 1976-80, Williamson guided the Golden Eagles to four NCAA Top-10 finishes in 1977 (3rd), 1979 (7th) and 1980 (2nd). In 1978, he led CSULA to its first NCAA Division II track and field national championship. During that spectacular year, he also earned Coach of the Year honors. In 1977, Williamson led his squad to its first California Collegiate Athletic Association title in a decade.

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Walt Williamson

Sixty years ago early in his career on Oct, 29, 1960, while an assistant football coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Williamson survived a fatal plane crash shortly after takeoff from Toledo Express Airport in northwest Ohio, in which he only sustained light injuries, but that took the lives of 24— both pilots, 16 Mustang football players, the student manager, a team booster, and four others.

The plane, a twin-engine Curtiss Wright Super C-46F Commando, a World War II surplus military transport plane, developed engine trouble according to survivors, all of whom said they heard sputtering engines seconds before impact.

Twenty-six other passengers survived — 19 players, all four coaches, the team physician, and the flight attendant.

Williamson returned to coach the Mustangs in 1961. He later became a scout for the Baltimore Colts, then coached the Orange County Ramblers to a 10-2 mark in the Continental Football League in 1967. The following year he coached the Greek Olympic track and field team in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. 

In 1988, the Athletics Hall of Fame at California State University, Los Angeles, inducted Walt Williamson, track and field coach into its ranks during an annual awards ceremony held at the Tower Restaurant in the Transamerica Building, in downtown Los Angeles. — Jarrette Fellows Jr. contributed to this story.