George Welsh, who served as a Penn State assistant football coach before spending 19 years with Virginia and retiring as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career victories leader, has died.
The school made the announcement in a release Friday, saying Welsh’s family says he died peacefully in Charlottesville on Wednesday. He was 85.
Welsh compiled a 134-86-3 record at Virginia from 1982-2000 after serving as Navy’s head coach from 1973-1981 and acting as a Penn State assistant coach from 1963-1972, under Rip Engle and then Joe Paterno. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, and Virginia named its indoor practice facility for him when it was completed in 2013.
“I am saddened to hear that Coach Welsh passed away this week,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said Friday on Twitter. “My condolences go out to his family. He was a true pioneer for UVA football and provided the model of success we are working hard to replicate. We will miss his frequent visits to the football offices.”
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A former quarterback at Navy who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a senior, Welsh took over a Cavaliers program that was sometimes derided as “Cadavaliers” because it had had just two winning seasons in 29 years. He guided Virginia to an 8-2-2 record in his third season, which ended with the school’s first appearance in a bowl game. The Cavaliers faced Purdue in the Peach Bowl, winning 27-24.
Welsh guided Virginia to bowl games 11 more times during his tenure and, in 1990, their only No. 1 ranking.
His quarterback when the Cavaliers rose to No. 1 was Shawn Moore, who recalled Welsh’s ability to get Virginia prospects to come be part of what the football program he was building.
“George’s personality wasn’t going to captivate you sitting in your living room, but he had an incredible staff and once you got there, you realized you were being coached by one of the best preparation coaches of all time,” Moore said. “He just prepared you like you wouldn’t believe. I can’t count the number of times he would kick us off the practice field because we weren’t prepared mentally or physically.”
When the Cavaliers rose to No. 1, he said, Welsh worked to keep the team from getting overconfident. They relinquished the top spot after a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech.
“He always wanted to keep everyone humble. We had so much confidence. You’re talking about a team with a lot of different personalities, and a coach with a unique personality,” Moore said. “He knew we were good but he wanted to keep everyone humble. The game could be out of reach and he was still coaching and yelling and screaming.”
Virginia shared the ACC title twice, in 1989 and 1995. In 1995, they became the first ACC team to beat Florida State, which had been unbeaten in league play since joining the conference in 1992.
Welsh received the Bobby Dodd Award in 1991 as the national coach of the year and was the ACC’s coach of the year four times.
He also coached at Navy from 1973-81, compiling a 55-46-1 record.