Welsh Still Is Coaldale's Hero

September 14, 1986

Welsh Still Is Coaldale's Hero

September 14, 1986|by RUDY BEDNAR, The Morning Call

Coaldale football followers can still recall the exploits of a lean looking quarterback whose gridiron savvy and slingshot arm guided their Tigers to many a victory in those glory days enjoyed by the Orange and Black more than 35 years ago.

They continue to follow him. George Welsh was and still is their hero. Not one football Saturday has gone by since he left his home town in 1951 that a bus load of fans from the community hasn't traveled to watch him either play or coach in college.

They knew all along that this gifted young man was going places. He might have been a mere 5-9, 120-pounder as he led the Tigers to one unbeaten season after another but he went on to make it big as an All-American quarterback at Navy before embarking on a glowing career in coaching.

According to a story that appeared this past week in the Washington Post, this season marks the 23rd for Welsh as a coach. He has been coaching Virginia for five years and his Cavaliers opened yesterday against South Carolina.

Welsh turned 53 two weeks ago. He spent seven years serving his country on a cruiser and destroyer after graduation from the academy. He got his first taste of coaching serving as an assistant to Wayne Hardin at Navy for a year while still on active duty.

But, following his discharge in 1963 Welsh at the age of 29 joined the Penn State staff as an aide to Rip Engle.

He stayed for 10 years including seven seasons under Joe Paterno before returning to Annapolis to coach the Midshipmen for nine years.

Paterno who is godfather to Welsh's four children regretted losing his top assistant but was also happy for him. "It's a wonderful opportunity for him," Paterno was quoted as saying at the time. He added "George was a great, great assistant and I always knew he would make a fine head coach."

Welsh has kindled similar loyalty from his aides. Jim Spaziani, Virginia's secondary coach, played for Paterno at Penn State and then served as a grad assistant under Paterno and Welsh but joined Welsh's Navy staff in 1975 and has been with him ever since. Linebacker coach Tony Whittlesey hooked up with Welsh in 1978 and also followed him to Charlottesville. Six of the nine Virginia coaches were also in Annapolis.

Described as a demanding, disciplined and highly emotional coach on the sidelines but exactly the opposite off the field, Welsh brought a 77-67-3 nine-year head coaching record into the 1986 opener with the reputation of being one of the best coaches in the country because of his ability to win despite recruiting limitations.

Welsh has done wonders at Virginia and recently signed a five year contract with the Cavaliers. He was quoted in the Post story as saying "I had some good jobs in the Navy and I still miss parts of the Navy which was a big part of my life-four years as a midshipman, seven years as an officer and then nine as a coach, but I don't regret leaving." He added "Personally, I made the right decision. I think I've been happier coaching than I would've been staying in the Navy."

The folks back home think so, too. Those faithful followers in Coaldale and his widowed mother who lives in Tamaqua and remains his staunchest fan love what he is doing.