Navy honoring Forzano and Welsh this weekend
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: August 31, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — Rick Forzano and George Welsh are deeply embedded in the history and tradition of Navy football.
Welsh ranks as one of the greatest players and head coaches in program history – the starting quarterback on the fabled "Team Named Desire" and later the architect of a dramatic turnaround for Navy.
As an assistant under Wayne Hardin, Forzano was personally responsible for recruiting two of the most legendary players in Navy folklore – Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach and 1963 team captain Tom Lynch. He later returned as head coach and laid a foundation that Welsh was able to build on.
Needless to say, the Navy football family was saddened when Welsh and Forzano died one week apart at the beginning of this year. Welsh, who resurrected the Midshipmen during his nine-year tenure as head coach, died on Jan. 2 at the age of 85. Forzano, who preceded Welsh as head coach from 1969 through 1972, died on January 9 at the age of 90.
Navy athletics will be recognizing the significant contributions of those two men this weekend. A "Celebration of George Welsh and Rick Forzano" will be held on Friday night in the Akerson Tower overlooking Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a star-studded list of guests slated to attend. A tribute ceremony for the two former head coaches will be held at halftime of Saturday's season opener against Holy Cross.
"The Naval Academy pulled out all the stops in putting together this event. They are going first-class and really doing it right, which is really no surprise," said Kate Welsh, who will represent her father and family during this weekend's festivities. "Our family is very touched, incredibly honored and extremely humbled. We are excited about this weekend, but emotionally a bit overwhelmed."
Rick Forzano Jr., who was born at the Naval Academy Hospital in 1962 when his father was an assistant, expressed similar sentiments.
"I know my dad loved the Naval Academy more than anywhere else he ever coached," the younger Forzano said. "My dad was in heaven knowing he was surrounded by people who had graduated from the Naval Academy and served our country and that he was able to influence people who would graduate from the Naval Academy and serve our country."
Remembering George Welsh
Kate Welsh, who will be joined by two of her three brothers (Duffy and Adam) this weekend, attended St. Mary's High during the first four seasons of her father's Navy tenure and recalled that he worked long hours during that period.
Navy went 4-7 in three of those four seasons from 1973 to 1976 and Coach Welsh later remarked that it "took five years to get my head above water." Navy won five games in 1977 then turned the corner the following season by going 9-3 record and beating BYU in the Holiday Bowl. The Midshipmen posted a 31-15-1 record over the final four seasons of the Welsh era.
"As an alum, Dad felt a responsibility to make Navy a winner again and worked really, really hard to get things back on track," Kate Welsh said. "I didn't see much of my dad during those early years at Navy."
A native of Coaldale, Pennsylvania, Welsh was a three-year letterman as a quarterback for Navy from 1953-55. In 1954, he led the Midshipmen to an 8-2 record and upset of Southeastern Conference champion Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl.
Welsh was named first team All-American and finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy as a senior after leading the country in passing and total offense. In two seasons as the starting quarterback, the 162-pound field general passed for 2,411 yards and 20 touchdowns while directing teams that compiled an overall record of 18-7-3.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1956, Welsh served eight years on active duty and reached the rank of lieutenant. He was an assistant at Navy under head coach Wayne Hardin in 1960 and 1961 while still an officer in the Navy.
Welsh left to become an assistant at Penn State under Rip Engle and Joe Paterno from 1963-1972. He was brought back to Navy by athletic director James "Bo" Coppedge to revive a program that had fallen on tough times.
Coppedge had considered Welsh as a candidate in 1969 before hiring Forzano as head coach instead. He would not make the same mistake again after Forzano left to become an assistant with the Detroit Lions.
"Navy was his first head coaching job and that was a big leap for my dad. He was very determined to be successful because he knew how important a winning football program was to the morale of the academy," Kate Welsh said. "It was always something larger than just football for my dad. We were part of a team, part of an athletic department and part of the Naval Academy as an institution."
As a teenager, Kate Welsh found some impressive role models in the likes of Coppedge, longtime assistant coach Steve Belichick, legendary athletic trainer Red Romo and Admiral Kinnaird McKee, the Naval Academy superintendent at the time.
"My dad always said you never win alone and those four men in particular were important mentors and confidants for him," she said. "I became accustomed to a certain level of character and professionalism by spending time around and observing people like that."
Honoring Rick Forzano
Forzano was an Ohio native so it made sense for him to recruit that state while serving as an assistant under Hardin from 1959 through 1964. One of Forzano's first stops was Lima, Ohio to lure a sturdy two-way standout named Tom Lynch.
Lynch could have followed his older brother Jim to perennial powerhouse Notre Dame or accepted scholarship offers to Purdue or Northwestern. Forzano persuaded the Lima Central Catholic star to attend the Naval Academy.
"When he came to my house in Lima, Rick was 31 – a dapper, articulate, funny man and just a ball of positive energy," Lynch recalled. "Rick convinced me to go to Navy. I had a lot of trust in him from the beginning."
Lynch was the unquestioned leader of the fabled 1963 Navy team that posted a 9-2 record and played Texas in the Cotton Bowl. He returned to the academy to serve as Officer Representative for the Navy football team in 1969, which was the first year for Forzano as head coach.
"Rick was a very demanding, critical coach on the field. Off the field, he was the life of the party and could be more like your father," said Lynch, who would rise to the rank of Rear Admiral and later serve as superintendent of the Naval Academy. "We stayed close through the years and until the end."
It was during that same 1959 recruiting swing through Ohio that Forzano first spotted the player widely regarded as the greatest in Navy football history. He'd gone to Purcell High in Cincinnati to visit with Jerry Momper, who like Lynch was both a center and a linebacker.
While watching film of Momper, Forzano took notice of the Purcell quarterback – a junior with obvious passing and running talent. So Forzano asked Purcell head coach Jim McCarthy if he could also speak to the quarterback.
"So I meet Rick Forzano, this really nice guy who tells me that he really likes the way I play, and why don't I come up to visit Navy with Jerry?" Staubach recalled.
Staubach was sold by Forzano, wound up liking everything about that visit to the Naval Academy and committed. After spending a prep year at the New Mexico Military Institute, Staubach showed up in Annapolis and proceeded to make history. Momper, meanwhile, wound up playing for hometown Cincinnati.
As the offensive catalyst of the aforementioned 1963 team, Staubach was named a first team All-American and received both the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award as college football's best player.
After serving his military commitment, Staubach became the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and led them to a pair of Super Bowl championships. He is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Forzano left the Naval Academy to become head coach at Connecticut, but was brought back to Annapolis by Coppedge to replace Bill Elias. Rick Forzano Jr. remembers being picked up from elementary school by his mother and dropped off at the Naval Academy.
"I would spend the afternoons and evenings with my dad. I'd watch practice and run around the grounds with Rusty Romo," said the younger Forzano, referring to trainer Red Romo's son – the longtime owner of Harry Browne's restaurant.
Forzano's sister had a daughter die 11 years ago and the family has held a memorial dinner and fundraiser in her honor ever since. Lynch and other members of the 1962 and '63 Navy football teams regularly attend that event out of respect for Rick Forzano Sr.
"The Naval Academy was a very important part of my dad's life and he stayed in touch with many of his former players from there," the younger Forzano said. "I went back to Annapolis many times over the years to attend a football game or class reunion with my father and I could tell how much the academy meant to him."
Forzano Jr. will be joined this weekend by his wife and two children, sister Stacie and her husband along with sister Kristie Stefani and her three children. "Our family feels extremely honored to be part of this event and grateful to the Naval Academy for remembering and recognizing my dad in this way," he said.
While at Navy, Forzano hired five assistants who wound up becoming head coaches in Leeman Bennett (Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Frank Gansz (Kansas City Chiefs), Pete McCulley (San Francisco 49ers), Jim Stanley (Oklahoma State) and Joe Bugel (Phoenix Cardinals, Oakland Raiders).
Steve Belichick's career as the longest-tenured assistant in Navy football history (1956-1989) included a stint under Forzano, whose junior varsity coach was former All-American Dick Duden.
"My parents were very close with the Belichick family. When my dad was an assistant at Navy, he lived with the Belichicks for a while," Rick Forzano Jr. said.
Forzano left Navy in 1973 to become an assistant with the Detroit Lions and was elevated to head coach the following season. In 1976, he hired a youngster named Bill Belichick to serve as assistant special teams coach.
"I was the new guy on the staff, so Coach Forzano had me doing things in many different areas – offense, defense, special teams, administrative. That was a great experience for me as a young coach," Belichick said.
Belichick, of course, is now widely regarded as one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history after leading the New England Patriots to a record six Super Bowl championships. He attended the funeral for Rick Forzano one day before the Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs in a playoff game.
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