George Welsh isn't an innovator. He has taught basically the same offensive and defensive systems during his entire coaching career.

Welsh doesn't have the flair or dash of Oklahoma's Barry Switzer or Arkansas' Lou Holtz. He is not revered as are Alabama's Bear Bryant and Penn State's Joe Paterno.

Nevertheless, Welsh, now in his ninth season at Navy, is one of the nation's premier football coaches.

When Navy (5-2) takes the field at Notre Dame (2-4) today, a bowl bid could be at stake, and this is one of the few seasons the Midshipmen have a solid chance of upsetting the Irish.

Welsh remains calm. "This isn't Army. It isn't even Air Force. It's only one game, and we aren't going to change a lot of things just for one game," he said. Keeping things in perspective is one of Welsh's specialties.

Other coaches speak highly of his abilities.

"Whenever I think of the game's top coaches, I think of George Welsh right up there alongside the obvious choices," said Yale's Carmen Cozza. "He hasn't gotten the recognition because he isn't at a glamor school, but he can coach and win with any group of players you give him."

"Every year he takes a group of non blue-chippers and wins with them," said Paterno, under whom Welsh served as an assistant before he returned to Navy, where he previously had been a star quarterback. "He just makes do with what he has, and the result is usually success. There isn't a more respected coach among us."

"There isn't a better coached team in America than Navy. It's that way every year," said Michigan's Bo Schembechler.

Whenever another school has an opening, one of the first names mentioned as a candidate is Welsh's. In the past five seasons he has been wooed by Tulane, Pittsburgh, LSU and Wisconsin, among others.

"I'm always worried whenever there's an opening, because I know where they're going to start looking," said Navy Athletic Director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge.

"I realize he's an extremely attractive coach. I just hope nothing happens to take him away from here. He'd be a great coach anywhere at any level, but I think he's the best coach in America for our school. That's because of his character and his ability to deal with young men and their problems and his ability to get them to come to the Naval Academy.

"There is no doubt he is the dominant figure in Navy's rise in football," Coppedge added.

Welsh coaches with a wry sense of humor and an understanding of the workings of college athletes' minds -- especially athletes at the Naval Academy, where he played quarterback in 1953, '54 and '55.

Welsh's success also results from the fact he is a realist.

Before the Michigan game this year, he told his team that Michigan was bigger, stronger and better, and that if they (the Wolverines) played well, they would win, no matter what Navy did.

Welsh told his team to go out and play hard and hope for the best.

The Midshipmen lost, 21-16, but it was one of Michigan's more difficult games.

"He always tells us straight out how things are," said all-America kicker Steve Fehr. "He doesn't give out any false securities. If we're better than a team and should beat them, he'll tell us that, and if the other team is better, like Michigan, he'll tell us that, too.

"That works to our advantage, though, because as a result, we all know our limitations. We know we don't have the talent of a Michigan or a Notre Dame, but we know we're more disciplined and better conditioned and as well-prepared as a team can be," Fehr said.

"You aren't going to fool kids nowadays into thinking they're better than they really are," Welsh said. "They look at the same films I do, and they can figure out who can play and who can't."

Welsh, 48, is Navy's winningest coach, with a 53-44 career record. In the past three seasons, Navy has been 9-3, 7-4 and 8-4 and has gone to two bowl games.

"We've played the same offense and the same defense since I've been here," Welsh said. "On offense we stress a strong running game and try to control the ball. The years we have a passer and a catcher, we throw the ball a little more.

"Defensively, we play sound, don't blitz much and play zone in the secondary. We play a reading defense up front with very little stunting. We don't give up long passes or long runs."

Now that he is at the top of his profession, Welsh said he is content: "All I want to be is a football coach."

It has been an interesting ride to the top for Welsh, who didn't get into coaching until he was 29 and had served seven years as a naval officer. He wanted to go to law school, but couldn't afford it and was thinking about going to work for U.S. Steel or Campbell Soup Co. when he decided on coaching.

While stationed in Hawaii, Welsh talked to then Penn State Coach Rip Engle, who was coaching in the Hula Bowl. At first Engle said he had no openings, but three months later, he called Welsh and offered him a job working with the freshmen and scouting. Welsh accepted.

He reportedly is in line to succeed Paterno at Penn State. It's a position Welsh said he would be interested in, "but I don't think Paterno is ready to get out of coaching for a while yet.

"I'm very happy here at Navy," he said.

Welsh prefers to work without a long-term contract, but Coppedge is hoping he will be at Navy for a long time.

"I bought him a headstone," Coppedge said. "I hope he uses it to be buried here."