Virginia buttons down foes, earning Moore and Moore respect

October 10, 1990|By Gene Wojciechowski | Gene Wojciechowski,Los Angeles Times

CHARLOTTEVILLE — CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Introducing the University of Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson's legacy to higher education, khaki pants khapital of America, home of the undefeated and second-ranked Cavaliers.

At Virginia, if it moves, it's wearing khaki or, at the very least, it's wearing a monogrammed, button-down collar shirt, preferably something in light blue with medium starch.

The Brooks Brothers look is the attire of choice here. Of course, the fellows at the local Sigma Nu house take it a bit further. Frat rats always do.

On football game days, they wear the khaki uniform with pride, complete with blue blazer. And if the weather is on the hot and muggy side, they keep the sport coats, ties and shirts on, but replace the pants with shorts.

Then they file into cozy Scott Stadium, capacity 42,000, and go nuts, as any self-respecting Virginia student would these days.

Virginia began playing football in 1888. And now, 102 mostly frustrating years later, the Cavaliers, 5-0 this season, are making their first true run at a national championship.

They are led by coach George Welsh, 57, a former Navy man who treats his team as if it were a ship's crew. Welsh is the captain, his assistant coaches the executive officers, his players the obedient sailors. Jefferson may have founded this place, but democracy remains a foreign concept on Welsh's team. You do it Welsh's way or you're given directions to nearby Interstate 64.

Virginia also possesses the firm of M&M: multi-talented quarterback Shawn Moore, a fifth-year senior who was here during the latter days of the Virginia dark ages; and wide receiver Herman Moore, who wears thick glasses, high jumps higher than anyone in the Atlantic Coast Conference and could be one of the first receivers taken in the NFL draft, if he decides to make himself available. And for the thousandth time, Moore and Moore aren't related, although Herman once made the mistake of telling a reporter that they were cousins.

This is the combination -- Welsh, Moore and Moore -- that helped bring Virginia its first ACC championship last season, its first 10-victory season (as opposed to the four 10-loss seasons in the last 31 years) and earlier this fall, its first victory over Clemson in 29 tries.

"Every week it seems to put me more and more in a dreamland," Herman Moore said. "When I got here, I was just hoping we could help change the program and finish above .500. That was it, just finish above .500."

Moore's wish has been granted. Since his arrival in 1987, the Cavaliers are 30-11. And since Welsh was hired in December 1981, Virginia is 55-40-2, and that includes a nine-loss season his first year here. The Cavaliers' threesome hasn't changed the football program, they have rescued it.


On the day of his interview, Welsh drove down from Annapolis and met with Virginia administrative and athletic department officials. Welsh was fresh from a successful nine-year stay at the Naval Academy, his alma mater, where he won more games (55) than anyone in academy history.

A tour of the stadium and practice facilities was planned, but for whatever reason, that part of the visit was scratched as the day wore on. It was getting late and Welsh still had about a three-hour drive home.

For this, Virginia should be thankful. If Welsh had seen the sorry state of those facilities -- and he uses the term loosely -- the Cavaliers might have someone else as their head coach.

"If I would have, I may not have [come]," said Welsh, wearing -- you guessed it -- khaki-colored pants with a light blue button-down collar shirt. "I had reservations after I got here. It was worse than I had anticipated."

The practice fields were fine. The stadium was functional. But the rest of it -- weight room, film rooms, offices, etc. -- was a joke.

Then there was the football program itself. The Cavaliers had just finished another 10-loss season and team morale was nonexistent.

"There was some talent left, but there wasn't enough," Welsh said. "And then, they had forgotten how to win. They didn't know how to practice, at least, not the way we wanted them to. I don't think they were very tough mentally. There had been too many changes for them."

So Welsh and his staff hit the road in search of recruits. Good luck.

Virginia's reputation as a haven for eggheads and a wasteland for football had preceded every Welsh recruiting attempt. The best players in the state wouldn't even visit the school. Nor would they grant Welsh or his assistants a chance to meet their parents.

"We never got into the houses," Welsh said. "The real good players turned us off right away. We went to the high schools and tried to [recruit], but we never got into the homes."

Asked if he blamed them, Welsh said, "No."

The Cavaliers went 2-9 during Welsh's first season. They won six games in 1983, eight in 1984, which was the most victories by a Virginia team since 1952. Welsh was slowly building a foundation for success.

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