Dec. 11, 2000
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A tearful George Welsh retired as Virginia's football coach Monday, 19 years after turning the Cavaliers from a laughingstock into a contender.
"I am now and will be forever a Wahoo," the 67-year-old coach said before pausing to collect himself. "It's time for this old salt to sail off into the sunset."
Welsh came to Virginia from Navy to take over a program so bad its team was mockingly referred to as the "Cadavaliers." He leaves as the winningest coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history, and one whose mark on the university can be seen in the stadium he leaves behind.
"The best measure of a coach's impact is what was and what is," athletic director Terry Holland said. "This stadium will stand forever as a very visible reminder of the legacy that coach Welsh has left us."
When Welsh arrived at Virginia in 1982, the Cavaliers had a 33-121-11 record in the ACC and had never been to a bowl. Since his arrival, they are 85-51-3 and will be making their 12th bowl appearance this month. His career record is 189-131-4.
Their home field, Scott Stadium, also was enhanced by an $86 million expansion and renovation in the offseason. The work pushed capacity to more than 60,000, and has made the stadium an important recruiting tool.
But Welsh said he decided after wavering all season that he doesn't have the energy and drive to return.
"Without doubt, this has been the most difficult decision of my coaching career," he said. "I admit I changed my mind on this many times over the past two weeks, but by this past weekend, it was clear to me that I should retire."
This season marked the first in three years that Welsh did not have back surgery in the offseason, but Welsh said "something happened" and he found he didn't have the energy to stay awake as late as he once had.
"It runs the whole gamut of things," he said of his decision, "what one has to do as a head football coach at this level to be really good."
Welsh's contract went through the 2001 season, and he said he'd been offered a lucrative two-year extension and encouraged to return.
But Welsh said the frustrating season had caused him trouble sleeping and been "physically and emotionally the toughest of my career."
Virginia (6-5) failed to win seven games in the regular season for the first time since 1986, and will need to beat Georgia in the Oahu Bowl to extend to 14 its string of seasons with at least seven victories. Only Florida State, Nebraska and Michigan can match that run.
Holland said the next few weeks should be a time to honor Welsh.
"We used to be cannon fodder," said Holland, who was the basketball coach when Welsh, then 48, arrived after nine years of success at Navy.
He said the task of replacing Welsh will be "gargantuan," and that he expects school president John Casteen will look for someone with Division I-A experience, preferably with knowledge of the school and the state.
Among those thought to be high on the list of candidates are Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, a former offensive coordinator under Welsh who left before the 1996 Carquest Bowl to take over the Eagles' program.
Welsh originally promised to announce his decision within a week of the Cavaliers' 42-21 loss at Virginia Tech on Nov. 25. He said he finally decided on Friday, and only told his coaching staff earlier Monday.
"I think they were surprised because I gave no indication I was going to do
this," he said. "We were into recruiting and working on the game plan."
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Director of News Content
A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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