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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Thursday, December 21, 2000

Coaching life
full-circle for
Cavs’ Welsh

ALOHA doesn't always mean "goodbye." Sometimes, it can mean "welcome."

And so it is for Virginia coach George Welsh, Boston College quarterback Tim Hasselbeck and Arizona State wide receiver Donnie O'Neal, who are here for the Oahu Bowl and Aloha Bowl Sunday and Christmas Monday at Aloha Stadium.

Welsh is also actually saying aloha - as in goodbye - after 40 years in the business, 20 of them with the Cavaliers.

He couldn't think of a better place to say farewell to football than in Hawaii, playing in the Oahu Bowl against Georgia.

"There's an irony here," said Welsh. "I was in the Navy on a destroyer (USS Fletcher) which was stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1963. "Now, I'm back."

He took a nostalgic drive by the naval base Tuesday, while waiting for his late-arriving Cavaliers. They will tour Pearl Harbor tomorrow.

"I was 29 at the time and didn't want to make the Navy my career," Welsh said.

It was here that the idea of going into coaching germinated.

He was discharged in time to join Penn State as an assistant coach that fall, serving under Rip Engel and Joe Paterno.

After 10 seasons with the Nittany Lions, Welsh returned to his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, as head coach for 10 years.

He took over at Virginia in 1981 before deciding to retire this season, citing health concerns.

"It was time for me to go," said Welsh, 67. "Most of them (coaches) get fired. I retired."

He plans on doing nothing for six months after Sunday's game. He wouldn't mind a nice going-away present from his football team -- like a victory over Georgia.

But Welsh plans to help the University of Virginia in other ways, such as fund-raising and meeting with the alumni.

Welsh feels he owes the school a lot, especially now that it has committed $86 million to expand its football stadium from 42,000 to 58,000 seats, in addition to building 40 luxury boxes costing $50,000 a year.

"There's going to be more pressure to fill those seats," Welsh said.

Yes, even at Virginia, Division I-A football is big business.

Welsh said he never felt the pressure to win at Virginia as some of his peers at the other Atlantic Coast Conference schools did. He saw an average of four coaching changes almost every year in the ACC.

"I think there's going to be a lot of 1-A schools like that. Everybody can't win."

But, obviously, the times they are a'changin', even at Charlottesville.

So retirement comes at a good time for Welsh. It will be a warm aloha for him in more ways than one.

One could say, his coaching career turned full circle here.

IT'S also a full circle for Hasselbeck, the Eagles' senior and tri-captain.

"My first and last collegiate game with Boston College is at Aloha Stadium," he said.

Hasselbeck, then a redshirt, was on the sidelines and watched his brother Matt, now with the Green Bay Packers, lead Boston College to a 24-21 comeback victory over the University of Hawaii in the 1996 season opener.

"I remember we were actually losing until we kicked a field goal at the end," said Hasselbeck, whose father, Don, played in the NFL.

O'Neal, a 6-foot-2 junior, is the son of former Chaminade basketball player, Kenny O'Neal.

His mom, Kathy Allen Maurer, is the niece of former police chief Dewey Allen and a cousin of Walter Heen, head of the state Democratic Party.

It's a small world. And one full of aloha - whether it means coming and going.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.
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