At age 23 when he got out of the Navy, it was time for Welch to go to college. Holy Cross wanted him to play ball there but required he go to prep school first; Welch nixed that idea. Instead, he wound up at the University of Maine, where he played football for four years (and baseball for two), captaining the Black Bears as a running back in 1959.
Already married to Sandy and with one child when he graduated in 1960, Welch thought about getting into marine biology, but the coaching jones had bitten him hard. Harold Westerman, his coach at UMaine, had made a tremendous impact on Welch both in his philosophy of coaching football as well as the way he handled his players.
Thinking he'd be wise to start as an assistant coach, Westerman told him about a Maine graduate who got the head coaching job at Newburyport High and needed some assistants. He applied, got the job and was an assistant with his hometown Clippers for four seasons. But when the head coaching job there came up in 1964, Welch went for it — and didn't get it.
"My wife didn't want me to get the job, being a hometown kid. She knew the problems I'd be facing," Welch said, laughing now at his wife's insight 45 years ago. "She was right."
Instead, Charlie Genakakis, head of the Ipswich School Committee, asked Welch to apply for the Tigers' vacant job after Elliott Roundy, a legend in his own right, stepped down after 13 years to focus on his duties as the school's athletic director.
This time, Welch got the job.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Winning early and often
Admittedly, Welch figured he'd use the job in Ipswich as a stepping stone to something bigger and supposedly better. "I figured two years tops," he said. "I thought I wanted to coach in college."