George Welsh felt more frustration than emotion in his first appearance at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since taking over as coach at Virginia.
"There was a sense of strangeness," Welsh admitted minutes after his Cavaliers were beaten, 20-16, today, despite outgaining Navy, 430-226, in total offense and generally dominating the season's opener for both teams.
"Hell, I've lived with some of those guys for three years," Welsh continued, referring to the upperclassmen he had recruited while coaching at Navy. "I spent a lot of time with them. You don't forget that."
As soon as the game ended and Welsh trotted toward midfield to congratulate Navy's new coach, Gary Tranquill, many of the Midshipmen rushed to shake hands with their former coach.
"I saw about a dozen (players)," Welsh said, "They are a great bunch of kids. They know how to win. It doesn't seem to matter who's coaching. They've won a lot of close games. Today they did what they had to do."
What the Midshipmen had to do was stop Virginia three times inside the 10-yard line and give up only field goals on three other similar occasions.
"How many times can you get down near the goal line and not score?" Welsh asked in dismay. "We had enough offense, we just couldn't push it over."
Welsh said he didn't experience any particular emotion when the Brigade of Midshipmen marched in before the game.
"I've seen that too many times," he added with a smile. "You've seen one brigade, you've seen 'em all."
Welsh said he had to get used to glaring into the late afternoon sun, after standing on the other side of the field here for nine seasons, but otherwise there was no particular disorientation as a visiting coach.
"I'm just glad this is over," he said about his return. "There were a lot of distractions this week. . . too much talk, too much about me coming back. I'm not Bear Bryant."
Welsh may not be college football's winningest coach, but his Navy teams compiled a 55-46-1 record during his nine years here. Now he faces a major rebuilding job at Virginia. "I'm not taking anything away from Navy, but mistakes beat us." he said.
The Cavaliers fumbled once at the Navy five-yard line after a long pass, and again on a pitchout late in the third quarter that set up the winning touchdown.
Welsh was in for some early second-guessing when he returned starting quarterback Mike Eck to the lineup at the beginning of the second half. Reserve Wayne Schuchts came in during the second quarter and completed five of six passes for 128 yards, including a 54-yard scoring pass to Nick Merrick.
Eck wound up completing seven of 12 for 101 yards; Schuchts finished with six of 11 for 168.
"It might be two or three weeks before we decide on a quarterback," Welsh said. "We've still got a lot of work to do."