hope to build on Welsh's legacy; welcome Groh
George Welsh arrived in 1982 to take over the U.Va.
football program, the University had earned a reputation as
a "coaches' graveyard." By the time he announced his
retirement Dec. 11, he had transformed it into a perennial winner
fit for an NFL head coach.
Welsh's successor, alumnus Al Groh -- most recently coach of the
New York Jets -- says he is ready to take it to the "next
level": competing for a national championship.
thing I learned here as a student is that Thomas Jefferson was
a person with vision, creativity and industriousness," Groh said
Jan. 5 as he was introduced as the Cavaliers' head coach. "I have
that vision for what our football program is going to look like
in the future, and I am going to work with unceasing diligence,
energy and determination to make that come about."
New York City native, Groh played football and lacrosse at U.Va.,
graduating in 1967 from the McIntire School of Commerce. He began
his coaching career that fall at Albemarle High School, then was
an assistant coach at five schools, including two seasons at Virginia,
before earning his first head coaching job at Wake Forest in 1981.
In six seasons there, the Demon Deacons were 26-40 -- at the time
representing the second-most coaching wins in the school's history
-- and sent 14 players to the pros. After leaving Wake Forest,
he spent a year with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and another at
the University of South Carolina before returning to the NFL in
1988. He was an assistant with four teams before being named the
Jets' head coach earlier this year.
York finished 9-7 this season, narrowly missing the playoffs.
enjoyed being an NFL head coach, he said, but the opportunity
to coach at U.Va. and move closer to his family his mother,
a brother and a sister all live in Charlottesville proved too
think this is one of those institutions that you belong to forever,"
Skepticism greeted Welsh's arrival in 1982. The Cavaliers had
posted winning seasons in just two of the previous 29 autumns,
and had never appeared in a postseason bowl game. There was talk
of dropping out of the top division of NCAA football altogether.
Nineteen seasons later, Welsh's teams had posted 16 winning seasons
and had earned 12 bowl berths. Across Grounds, there were monuments
to the program's success: an expanded and renovated stadium complex
and the first-rate Frank McCue Center, a training facility which
houses football and other athletic offices, plus locker, weightlifting
and training rooms. Welsh's decision to step down came as a surprise
to many. Although he turned 67 a week before the season-opener,
he had long turned away questions about retirement.
had a successful playing career as a quarterback, finishing third
in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1955. After a six-year naval
career, he entered coaching full-time, first as an assistant at
Penn State and later as head coach at the Naval Academy in 1973,
where he won 55 games in nine seasons, the most in school history.
took over U.Va.'s program in December 1981. Two years later the
Cavaliers went 8-2-2 and played in their first postseason game,
beating Purdue, 27-24, in the Peach Bowl.
success continued. Virginia was ranked No. 1 in the nation for
a time in 1990, part of a streak of 13 consecutive seasons with
at least seven victories. Welsh became the winningest coach in
both U.Va. (134 wins) and Atlantic Coast Conference (85) history,
and was voted ACC Coach of the year five times. He was 134-85-3
at Virginia and 189-131-4 overall.
amazing thing about the consistency has been that we've been just
as consistent producing winners in the classroom as we have on
the football field," said U.Va. athletic
director Terry Holland. "
Every year that the College
Football Association has recognized the graduation rate, Virginia
has been recognized as having one of the very highest graduation
rates in the country."
have always enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the game,"
Welsh wrote in a Dec. 17 op-ed piece in the New York Times. "There
is an art to football, but there is also a science to it. The
art is choreographing plays or defenses.
The science is
matching 11 on 11 and what you can do on offense or defense to
stop the other guy.
The other part was going on the field
and being a teacher, because there has never been a good coach
who was not a good teacher."
the years went on, however, Welsh found less and less time to
focus on those activities, as his schedule became filled with
things he felt less comfortable doing. Recruiting student-athletes,
in particular, was becoming a year-round pursuit. The effect was
wearying, Welsh said as he announced his retirement. "This
past season has been physically and emotionally
of my career," he said.
As he mulled his retirement decision after the regular season
ended, University officials made a last-ditch effort to retain
him, but in the end, the stress was too much.
me it has been a great run, but nothing lasts forever, and now
is the time for me to step aside," he said. Choking back
tears, he continued, "I want everyone to know that I am and
will be forever a Wahoo.
It's been a long journey for me
from Coaldale, Pennsylvania, and now it's time for this old salt
to sail off into the sunset."