Although George Welsh is not prodigal with regard to laughter, a sure way to provoke him into some would be to characterize him as a genius. However, that word, more than any other, appears in discussions of the Navy football coach.
"That kid is a genius at calling plays," Coach Eddie Erdelatz said after quarterback Welsh led Navy's "Team Named Desire" to a 21-0 victory over Mississippi in the 1955 Sugar Bowl, "And he called them, too. Nothing came from the bench."
All of Navy's plays come from the bench now, but the same guy is calling them. Marine Lt. Bob DeStafney, who played for Welsh from 1975 to 1977, said yesterday the players consider Welsh a football genius. "He knows everything about the game. If the execution is there, he can cut any defense to ribbons."
Welsh is easily embarrased by praise an terminates it summarily by pointing to his record, which merely became balanced at 31-31 by the unbeaten Mids' seven victories this fall.
"I thought I'd never make it," Welsh said. "That's not much in five years."
Considering Navy's recruiting problems and its emphasis on academic performance, there are folks who think Welsh has accomplished some remarkable things since becoming head coach in 1973.
"They did a great job with the athletes they've got," pitt Coach Jackie Sherrill said after his team was roughly handled by Navy on Saturday. "George should be commended for the job he's done. Navy wants to play and they want to win."
Welsh wants to win so much that he leaned back after Saturday's game nd said, "I'm worn out. This was a very emotional game and I got caught up in it. It's not that unusual for me. Even as an assistant, I was that way, but there are more demands now as a head coach. I put everything into the game and I haven't much left.
"You have all the preparation leading up to it and you're looking forward to it. You get a big crowd and you have a good team, it's just a remarkable feeling."
Welsh's emotion makes sleep impossible the night before a game.
"The last two weeks I've been up at 3:30," he said. "There's no sense lying in bed stewing about it. I get up and write things down, go over the game plan, go for a walk. I just can't sleep."
Week after week, Welsh has aroused the Navy Team to a high level of emotion, yet it is difficult to explain his relationship to the players.
"I'm not their friend," Welsh said, "but I try to help them. I tell them my office door is open and I'm sympathetic to their needs. I know their prolems in Bancrof Hall. I've been through all that. I like them to come to my house and many of the older players do. The younger ones don't, but I guess that's to be expected."
Most of the players who accept the invitation apparently do so because of the genuine warmth of Welsh's wife Sandra. Some players claim they are uncomfortable around Welsh and hold him in awe.
Coach Welsh knows football better than anyone I ever played for," said Marine Lt. Chet Moeller, a 1976 Navy graduate who was the school's only All-American of the last 15 years. "He certainly isn't buddy buddy, though. He stays off at a distance. But probably you can't be buddy buddy. Discipline would break down."
"He's like the captain of a ship," DeStafney said. "It's lonely at the top. You certainly get the feeling that he's off by himself."
Even Welsh's assistants are somewhat awed by his presence and one, no longer on the staff, confessed that he was "scared stiff" by Welsh.
Another assistant recalled last year's Georgia Tech game, when he stood near Welsh as the coach sent in a wingback counter play that had not been used all afternoon. "Good call, George," said the assistant, who said he was then frozen by Welsh's stare. The play went for a touchdown.
Fullback Larry Klawinski skipped spring practice to play lacrosse. Welsh then forbade him to report for early practice in August and placed him at the bottom of the depth chart. Fair as well as strict, Welsh had Klawinski running with the No. 1 team within a week.
Tight end Carl Hendershot was suspended the week of the Air Force game as a disciplinary measure. Now that Hendershot is back, he has been treated like anyone else.
"Discipline is important," Welsh said. "I like to run what Navy people would call a tight ship. I expect the players at meeting two minutes early. If I call a staff meeting for 7:30, I expect everyone to be there on time. I make sure my practices start and end on time.
"We have very few rules on this team. I don't ask much of the players, but I expect them to abide by those few rules. Football is a team game. It's not like baseball, where a team can lose 50 games and a guy can still point to a 300 batting average for satisfaction or basketball where a guy's 30 points can take the edge off a loss. It's important for football players to make sacrifices for the team."
When Welsh was spending 10 years as a Penn State assistant, he was somewhat more inclined to let his hair down - but only somewhat.
After one victory, Welsh launched into song in the dressing room. It was so well received that a song by Welsh became a trademark of a Penn State triumph.
Earle Smith, a Navy teammate of Welsh, recalled that "he was never talkative, even as a midshipman. But he's well-read."
Welsh displayed his literary breadth at a team meeting by quoting from Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago."
When he left the Navy, after seven years as an officer. Welsh took examinations for law school and was interviewed for several business positions.
"Then I ran into Rip Engle at the Hula Bowl," Welsh said, "and I asked if he had any openings at Penn State. He didn't but later he wrote that they were hiring an additional coach to help the freshmen, provide academic counseling and work on recruiting. I took it."
Now, 15 years later, Welsh is the head coach of an undefeated Navy team and one of the more respected members of his profession. He does not consider it an end all.
"Coaching is very demanding and becoming more so," said the 45-year-old Welsh. "There are long hours in season and recruiting takes up so much time, even your weekends, except in June and July. I'm not going to be 60 and coach, probably not even be 55 and coach. I haven't anything in mind, though. All I'm thinking about right now is beating Notre Dame."