CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A few years ago, George Welsh came to the conclusion that working as a college athletics administrator would be "a fate worse than death." Four days before he turned 63 last month, he extended his contract as football coach at the University of Virginia through 2000.
Might as well stick with something you know.
In the history of college football, only two men are the all-time leaders in victories at different Division I-A programs: Bear Bryant, at Alabama and Kentucky, and Welsh, at the U.S. Naval Academy and Virginia.
Virginia is nearly a two-touchdown favorite over Maryland today at Scott Stadium. If Welsh records his 100th win with the Cavaliers, he will not acknowledge the milestone, just as he ignored any hoopla last week when Virginia beat Central Michigan and he became the winningest coach in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I don't think it's any big deal. That's why I'm downplaying it," Welsh said. "I've been here 15 years, and if I wouldn't have won that many games, I probably wouldn't be here right now.
"Look, it's a young conference. Take the SEC or the Big Ten or the Pac-10, I'd be 15th on their lists. A lot of good coaches in the ACC didn't stay. I just happened to stay."
The ACC was formed in 1953, and by then Frank Howard already had 69 of his 165 wins at Clemson. At this end of the time line, Bobby Bowden had 143 of his 187 wins at Florida State before it entered the ACC in 1992.
Lou Holtz moved on after only four years at N.C. State, and Steve Spurrier coached Duke for three years. Danny Ford was too fast with the rules at Clemson. Who knows what Bobby Ross would have accomplished at Georgia Tech if the NFL hadn't come calling, or how many games Jerry Claiborne would have won with Maryland if he hadn't gone back to his old Kentucky home?
All right, Welsh may have a point or two, but he has done more than just "stay" in the ACC. Over the past nine seasons, Virginia has won at least seven games each year. No school has ever had a stretch like that in the conference.
The Cavaliers have been to seven bowls in the past nine years; they had never gone to one before Welsh arrived. Virginia had two winning seasons in the 29 before he got here.
Forget, for a moment, Virginia's lack of tradition. What makes Welsh's ACC record extraordinary is that no one ever expected him to stay this long.
In 1984, it was reported that Welsh had a clause in his contract that allowed him to go to Stanford or Penn State, and the rumor mill had him going to Notre Dame. He talked to an NFL team in 1985. When John Cooper was on shaky ground at Ohio State, Welsh's name was mentioned.
It was the same at Navy, where Welsh went 55-46-1 from 1973 to 1981. Can you imagine Welsh working for Bob Irsay? It almost happened in 1980, when the Colts instead hired Mike McCormack. Welsh was going to LSU, to Georgia Tech, to
everywhere but Severn School to raise the ghost of Paul Brown.
Who wouldn't want a miracle worker?
"The amazing thing about George is that he took two programs that were destitute and turned them around," said Joe Krivak, the former Maryland coach who's in his second year as one of Welsh's assistants. "There aren't many coaches who do that once, let alone twice."
Navy hasn't had a winning record since 1982, the year after Welsh left for Virginia. He is 99-63-3 at Virginia, which has had just two losing seasons since his arrival.
Virginia's academic standards were lowered some in the 1980s, and the Cavaliers began winning the recruiting wars over the state's top high school players. Terry Kirby stayed home. So did Tiki Barber, the tailback from Roanoke who's among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.
Recruiting got a boost last year, when Virginia became the first team to beat Florida State in an ACC game. The Cavaliers held off a Seminoles rally for a 33-28 win on Nov. 2 in what may have been the college game of the year.
The local newspaper was elated, simply because it got a photo of the laconic Welsh smiling. Some things never change. In 1984, Virginia beat Navy in Annapolis on the same day the academy was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Navy's "Team Named Desire." Welsh, who was quarterback of that team, admitted it was a "pretty nice day."
Welsh keeps pace with changes in the game, but Virginia still plays pretty basic football. He relies on the familiar, from the playbook to his coaching staff. Krivak was with him in Annapolis. So were Rick Lantz and Tom O'Brien, Virginia's coordinators. Same for Art Markos and Bob Petchel, two other Cavaliers assistants.
"There's a lot to be said for continuity," Krivak said. "Loyalty is something that goes both ways. George feels very comfortable with the staff he's assembled, but he's still a hands-on coach. He watches, listens and sees what's going on, but when he sees what he wants done, that's the direction we go.
"He doesn't have much to say, but when he says it, he says it and we move on."
Site: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Virginia by 13
Welsh in the ACC
George Welsh became the winningest coach in ACC history when Virginia beat Central Michigan 55-21 last week. The top 10 coaches:
Coach, school(s) ......................... Wins
George Welsh, Virginia ................... 99
Bill Dooley, N.C., W. Forest ............. 98
Danny Ford, Clemson ...................... 96
Frank Howard, Clemson .................... 96
Bill Murray, Duke ........................ 80
Jerry Claiborne, Md. ..................... 77
Earle Edwards, N.C. State ................ 77
Dick Crum, North Carolina ................ 72
Bobby Ross, Md., Ga. Tech ................ 70
Dick Sheridan, N.C. State ................ 52
Pub Date: 9/14/96