Former Virginia football coach George Welsh passes away

The Hall of Fame coach led the Cavaliers to two ACC titles


George Welsh served as Virginia's football coach from 1982 to 2000.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

Former Virginia football coach George Welsh passed away at age 85 on Jan. 2, his family announced on Friday.

Inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, Welsh was a Cavaliers legend. He single-handedly engineered the turnaround of Virginia football, transforming it from a program that had never gone to a bowl game to a consistent winner during his long tenure, from 1982 to 2000.

Before he came to Virginia, the Cavaliers had just finished a 1-10 season. They had only two winning seasons in the past 29 years before Welsh ignited a turnaround.

During his 19 years as coach, Virginia recorded just two losing seasons, went to 12 bowl games, had a No. 1 ranking in 1990 — to date, the only time a Division I football team from the Commonwealth has been ranked first in a major poll — and had two shared ACC titles in 1989 and 1995. Welsh’s coaching record at Virginia was 134-86-3.

The magnitude of his success made him not only a Virginia football legend, but a college football legend. He retired from coaching in 2000 with the most wins in ACC history. Welsh was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

In addition to his success at Virginia, Welsh was a great coach at the United States Naval Academy, where he also transformed the program into a winning one. From 1973 to 1981, Welsh led the Midshipmen to three bowl game appearances and their first nine-win season in 16 years.

Not only a great football coach, Welsh was also a great football player in his time. He played quarterback for Navy from 1952 to 1955. In 1955, he was a first-team All-America quarterback and finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Welsh coached some great Cavaliers football players while at the helm, many of whom went on to have great careers at the professional level. Offensive tackle Jim Dombrowski, wide receiver Herman Moore, cornerback Ronde Barber, running back Tiki Barber and running back Thomas Jones were all coached by Welsh and found extended success in the NFL.

Both Jones and Barber paid tribute to their former coach on Twitter Friday morning.

“[Welsh] came to Appalachia VA, sat in my living room and told me I would play as a true freshman and he would give me every opportunity to make it to the NFL,” Jones wrote. “The best coach I've ever played for.”

Barber commended Welsh’s charismatic, personable leadership.

“He had his quirks that that would make us laugh,” Barber wrote. “But he was such a strong teacher and motivator, and always got the best out of us. Rest In Peace, coach.”

Current Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall also lauded Welsh’s legendary contributions on Twitter. Like Welsh, Mendenhall inherited a Virginia football team that was struggling, and has begun to turn the program around.

“He was a true pioneer for UVA football and provided the model of success we are working hard to replicate,” Mendenhall wrote. “We will miss his frequent visits to the football offices.” 

Welsh will always be remembered for his legendary contributions to the Virginia Cavaliers. Upon his retirement in 2000, Welsh said, “I want everyone to know that I am and will be forever a Wahoo.”

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