The sudden decision of football Coach George Welsh to take another job after nine years hit Athletic Director Bo Coppedge, like many others at the U.S. Naval Academy, "like a rock."
Welsh, named today as the new football coach at the University of Virginia, will not take over his new duties there until Jan. 1. He can coach the Midshipmen against Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl Dec. 30.
"George took Navy football from the bottom to the top and everyone had great admiration for him," Coppedge said today. "He got offers to leave every year, and, although we took them seriously, we were always hopeful he would stay. We didn't want to face reality he might leave one day.
"I haven't contacted anyone about the vacancy yet. I'm assembling my thoughts as to the type of person we need. It'll have to be a certain type of individual, like George, who has a background in our program here. He doesn't have to be a Navy graduate, but I'm pretty well set in my mind the guy should have some knowledge of the military system."
There are 18 former Navy assistant coaches working either as head or assistant coaches in the National Football League. Included in the group are Leeman Bennett, head coach at Atlanta; Joe Bugel, Redskin assistant, and Pete McCulley, former Redskin assistant. Now an assistant coach with the New York Jets, McCulley was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers for a brief time.
"We haven't ruled out anyone. I'm just starting to talk to people to get advice on possible candidates," Coppedge said. "There's no definite timetable, but we would like to get a coach in here as quick as possible. I don't know if George plans to take his assistants to Virginia with him. So I don't know if any will be here to apply."
Coppedge said he would like to name a coach by Dec. 30.
The news of Welsh's leaving left the players, who are in the middle of final exams, somewhat dazed, according to senior Mike Crum.
"When he (Welsh) called that meeting (Monday night), we knew he was leaving," said Crum, a starting defensive tackle. "Every year, we hear rumors of Coach leaving and after a while, you don't listen any more. We were very surprised and a lot of the guys were down. Coach did all the talking and we just listened. No one said a word.
"I'm finished, but a lot of sophomores and juniors are a little concerned about the future. I was talking to Randall Pierce (sophomore linebacker from Osbourn Park High School in Manassas) and Hampton Oberle (sophomore defensive end from W.T. Woodson in Fairfax), and their only question was, who's coming in and who's going to stay."
"I don't think the fellows are that worried about who will be here next year," said senior offensive tackle Keith Boring. "They'll have to just come back and keep going. You can't keep wishing Coach Welsh is still here."
Place-kicker Steve Fehr said that although the players are sad at Welsh's leaving, he didn't think the Midshipmen (7-3-1) would put forth less than 100 percent in their bowl appearance.
"This bowl is a reward for a good season and I don't think Coach Welsh's decision to leave will affect us that much," Fehr said. "Maybe it'll help us. We might be a bit more emotional because it is Coach Welsh's last game."
Crum said Welsh told them, "Tomorrow (Thursday), everything would be normal, just like a regular practice.
"He told us he wants to win and I know the players realize there's nothing they can do about Coach's decision. I'm sure everyone will wish him good luck and go down there wanting to win, too."
Ironically, Navy opens next season's schedule at home against Virginia. Asked where his allegiance would lie at kickoff time, Crum said, wihout hesitation, "With Navy, of course."