CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- If anyone can remember what UVa football was like before George Welsh arrived in Charlottesville, they know exactly what he meant to the program and the university.
Welsh passed away Wednesday at the age of 85, and is being remembered as a man who was, as he said once "put on this earth to coach football".
Born in Coaldale, Pa, Welsh entered the Naval Academy in 1952, and became a first team All-American quarterback. Welsh finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1955.
After his service, he retired from the Navy as a lieutenant in 1963 and was hired as an assistant coach at Penn State. He returned to Annapolis as the head coach in 1973, and took a program that had only one winning seasons and 2 victories over Army in the decade before his arrival.
Welsh spent 9 seasons at Navy and won their first bowl game in over 20 years beating BYU in the 1978 Holiday Bowl. He then moved on to Virginia in 1982.
Welsh undertook an even greater rebuilding job with the Cavaliers, who had just 2 winning seasons in the three decades before he came. He went on to win 134 games over the next 19 seasons, was named ACC coach of the year four times and went to 12 bowls, while sending dozens of players on to the NFL.
"He was an excellent teacher" said Aaron Brooks, the former UVA standout quarterback who went on to play 8 seasons in the NFL. "He was a good motivator and allowed us to be who we were as players."
"He was hard nosed" added Sparky Woods, a former assistant under Welsh in the late 90s and now an offensive assistant with the Richmond Spiders. "Teams usually tend to take on your personality as a coach. His was as a tough-minded guy."
"His teams took that same approach to it."
Welsh led UVa to it's only number one national ranking in 1990 and was named the national college football coach of the year one season later. He was also 9-10 against Virginia Tech, whom the Cavaliers have beaten only once since his retirement.
"My class, as a group, we're still close" Brooks added. "We still talk and laugh about Coach Welsh but deep down, we all know how much he meant to us. His character was flawless."
"He understood it was a player's game" said Woods. "He was all about getting the right people in the right place. He moved John St. Clair from tight end to center, and St. Clair went on to play several years with the Detroit Lions, so Coach was right about him."
When he retired in 2000, Welsh was the winningest coach in ACC history and will long be remembered as the man who put UVa football back on the map.
Welsh was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and is survived by his four children.
"His kids and his surviving family have a lot to be proud of" Brooks said.
"It just brings a smile to my face every time you say the name George Welsh".