George Welsh begins his sixth season as Navy's head football coach Saturday at Virginia. In rebuilding the Mids' program, he has compiled a 24-31 record that includes four victories over Army.
A highly respected football man, Welsh told what is like to guide a service academy against football giants in an interview yesterday with Washington Post staff writer Robert Fachet.
Q. Navy has had only one All-America player, Chet Moller, in 15 years. May we surmise from this that Navy can no longer recruit the outstanding football player?
A. I think generally that's true. We have a chance to get one or two, maybe. It's not likely that we can get 10 real good ones every year like the major schools do, and one is going to be an All-America.
Q. When you try to recruit, are most kids turned off by the five-year post-graduate requirement?
A. I don't know about most. It's different. Some of the great ones aren't interested from the beginning. The three factors that hinder recruiting are the fact that this is a military school, the high academic standards and the service obligation. The factors that hinder it the most are the high academics and the service obligation.
Q. You played for a nationally ranked Navy team that whipped Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl. Is Navy capable of reaching that plateau again?
A. Not in two-platoon for football. When I played, it was one platoon and we had a much better chance. Without question, one platoon would create better balance. I've also heard talk that in two-platoon football players have become robots and I think there's something to it. A defensive end, for instance, is conditioned to do the same thing over and over. One platoon would take something away but it would also add something, make a more complete player.
Q. You were an assistant at Penn State for 10 years. Would you discuss the differences between football at Penn State and football at Navy?
A. First, it's a matter of personnel. When I was at Penn State, we had Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell, Ted Kwalick. The only one here that approached them was Gerry Goodwin and he left his sophomore year. Penn State had big linemen like Mike Reid and Steve Smear, and here we haven't had a big, quick lineback like Jack Ham. Second, the class schedules are different here. Players spend many more hours in class, taking tough courses. At Penn State, they might have maybe 10 people in a tough cirriculum. Here, everybody is.
Q. Is a Navy football player different, in respects other than size, from a Penn State football player?
A. No different. They're all 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds.
Q. What are the major pluses and minuses of coaching at Navy?
A. The biggest plus is that the players are out there because they want to be. They want to play football. In the time allotted, they get a lot out of themselves. A lot of them play to the best of their ability most of the time. I think the players get something out of playing football. They overcome a lot of things and still compete. They learn that it is worthwhile making sacrifices. The minuses, of course, are the class time and recruiting. We have enough time for onfield practice, but the players don't have much off time to catch their breath. We don't have much meeting time, either. We meet only Sunday night to look at films. Because of late classes, we can't hold meetings before practice. Last year, our quarterback, Bob Leszczynski, did not have any free time during the day until Wednesday.
Q. Some outstanding players have recently left the academy after their freshmen or sophomore years. Is it a constant battle to keep players in school?
A. Last year, we counted eight people who would have been starting for us if they had remained in school. Some were outstanding - Gerry Goodwin, Dave King, Mike Roban, Steve Rogers. It seems like one or two are always thinking about it. Maybe that's no more than anywhere else, but the real good ones like King and Goodwin don't quit somewhere else.
Q. You appear to have recruited some excellent freshmen. Do you find it easier to recruit now that the Vietnam war is fading in memory.
A. The last couple of years have been better for us than it was in the beginning. We at least have quantity. I don't know if we're getting real great ones but there are more and better athletes. We have more depth and in another year we'll have more competition for starting jobs and injuries will be less of a factor. In that frame, we have had fewer players leaves school the last couple of years, too.
Q. You have been acclaimed for maing Navy football competitive again. Are you satisfied with the progress made since you came back in 1973?
A. No. I thought we did all right in '74 and '75. But even if we're more competitive, we haven't won a lot more. You have to win your share to make it worthwhile.
Q. You are highly respected in the profession, frequently mentioned when major schools have coaching vacancies. Yet you have elected to remain at Navy. Why?
A. I really haven't had that many concrete job offers. The speculation has exceeded actual facts. I don't understand why I'm mentioned so much. We've made progress but my record is not that good. I have no reason to change jobs and I still believe that old saying, "If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." The worst thing in coaching football is that you can get on a merry-go-round. That's not saying that I'm glued here, either. But one of the things I would like to do is get the football program back to where we are a good team every week and win seven or eight games a year.
Q. As an old quarterback, do you think there is a need to provide more protection for quarterbacks today?
A. You can treat the quarterback like a punter, but what do you do if the quarterback runs? If you change the rules, you have to change the game of football. I think it's a good game. It combines a lot of things like strength and speed. It's a chess game on the field. You don't play if you're dumb. I'm not advocating war or saying football is its moral equivalent, but the strategy, the matching of strength against weakness, is similar and I think that's why so many military people have been such strong supporters of football. Some things should be done however. A guy using his forearm to clothesline somebody should be thrown out. And money is dictating all the decisions in college football, so the people playing it are forgotten. I'm referring to a game on Saturday night, Sept. 2 for TV - an 11-week football season becoming a 14-week Tv season.I suggest that some of the bowl or TV money be siplhoned off and put into research. Pro football could put money into it, too - research helmets and designs in shoulder pads for more protection.
Q. Much has been written about increasing violence - the killer mentally - in college football. Have you seen evidence of this?
A. I really haven't. There have been a couple of cheap shots evident on film, but it's very minimal. Football has become much tougher physically in the last 10 years. Players are faster and bigger and something's got to give. There are more injuries in joints - ankles, knees, shoulder. I don't think there are many head injuries, and spinal injuries like Darryl Stingley's are very unusual. If you want to have a game of football, you'll have shoulders, knees and ankles hurt.
Q. Do you think the Academy places too much emphasis on the Army game, too little on the other 10?
A. No. If I did, I don't feel that way since they beat us. It's our big game of the year and that's the way it should be. I think it's a litle incongruous, though, to shout "Beat Army" after the Alma Mater when we're playing Notre Dame the next week.
Q. Would you like to see Maryland return to the Navy schedule?
A. I certainly would.It's a natural rivalry and it would be good for our players. They're just half an hour down the road. I have respect for Jerry Claiborne. He runs a class football operation. I know there would be a great crowd and it would be another big game for us.
Q. What goals have you established for this season?
A. I think a winning season is realistic for us. And one thing this football team wants to do is win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back.