Under his guidance, the Fighting Irish captured the program's first BIG EAST title in 2005 and repeated the feat in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. Notre Dame has sent competitors to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in six of the past nine seasons, with Frank Dyer earning the program's first All-America honor in 2012 and a record nine Irish swimmers competing at the 2013 NCAA meet. Notre Dame sent a total of eight student-athletes to the NCAA Championship meet during Welsh's final season in 2014, before the longtime Fighting Irish mentor officially announced his retirement after 29 seasons at the helm of the program in July.
Welsh was not unaccustomed to success, as student-athletes and teams under his care have exceeded expectations and broken barriers throughout his 36-year career as a head coach. Welsh's squads experienced great team success over the years. In 1978 and 1979, he helped Johns Hopkins to back-to-back Division III national championships, while being named National Coach of the Year on the latter occasion. In all, Welsh has coached 33 teams that have claimed conference championships and 21 that have won nine or more dual meets in a season.
Since arriving at Notre Dame in 1985, Welsh's teams posted a 326-179-1 (.645) dual-meet record, while winning 22 league titles (Midwestern Collegiate - 15, BIG EAST - 6, North Star - 1) and taking second place on seven occasions (MCC - 2, BIG EAST - 5). His student-athletes were also accomplished, earning 34 invitations to the NCAA Championships, gaining All-America honors on 12 occasions and winning over 45 conference championship meet events.
With a victory over Penn State as part of the Shamrock Invitational on Jan. 28, 2006, Welsh surpassed Dennis Stark's mark of 174 career dual-meet victories at Notre Dame. Stark, the only other head coach in Fighting Irish swimming and diving history, was at the helm of the program from 1958 until Welsh took over in 1985. The most apparent reality of the Welsh era at Notre Dame was the almost every-day occurrence that breaking University records has become. In his tenure, Welsh saw his student-athletes break the Notre Dame record in every event -- on both the men's and women's sides -- on multiple occasions. In all, more than 200 University records have been set under Welsh's tutelage, with the bar continuing to be raised each season. The Irish established 12 marks during the 2004-05 and 2008-09 seasons alone and seven more in 2005-06, adding eight more in 2007-08, an additional 12 in 2011-12 and nine more in 2012-13. In the lists of the top 10 performers in each swimming event in Notre Dame men's history, no names remain from the pre-Welsh era.
The Irish swimming and diving program entered a new era under Welsh, as well. In his first 17 years at Notre Dame, the men's swimming and diving team had little access to scholarship aide. The Notre Dame Athletic Department decided in December 2002 to fully fund all of its varsity sports, giving the Irish a tool with which to compete with the best schools in the nation. Working with a fully funded program, Welsh has welcomed some of the program's top freshman classes in recent years. Notre Dame finished in the top four at the BIG EAST Championships in 16 consecutive seasons, including six runner-up results (1999, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011). The Fighting Irish finally broke through and captured the program's first BIG EAST title in 2005 by defeating Pittsburgh, the eight-time defending conference champion, by 275 points. Increased expectations were placed on the Irish in 2005-06 and the squad delivered with another BIG EAST title in dominating fashion, also accomplishing the feat in 2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12 and most recently 2012-13.
Notre Dame closed out its final BIG EAST Championship appearance in 2013 by scoring a meet record 991 points on its way to a sixth and final league crown. Nine Irish swimmers, Frank Dyer, Chris Johnson, Bill Bass, Kevin Hughes, John McGinley, Zach Stephens, John Williamson, Cameron Miller and Bogac Ayhan all qualified for the NCAA Championships, a remarkable feat considering in the first 54 years of the program, only five swimmers (making seven total appearances) has qualified for the NCAA meet. It was also a historic march through the BIG EAST Championship meet in 2012 as Notre Dame earned 887 points, its most at the event since 2004-05, to claim its fifth league title. Frank Dyer won the 500 free and was runner-up in the 200 free, while Bill Bass took home titles in the 200 IM and the 100 fly. Diver Nick Nemetz swept both the 1 and 3-meter dives to insure the Irish victory.
Dyer's strong performance in the 200 free was a sign of things to come, as his fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships earned Notre Dame its first All-America honor
The Irish registered a banner campaign in 2010-11, as Notre Dame finished second at the BIG EAST Conference Championships. Even more, Frank Dyer became just the second Notre Dame swimmer - and first freshman - to represent the Irish at the NCAA Championships. The Fighting Irish went 6-4 during the dual meet portion of the schedule and received votes in the final CollegeSwimming.com Top 25 rankings. Upon earning and invitation to the NCAA Championships, Dyer went on to compete at the national event in the 500 free, 200 free and 100 free. Dyer recorded the program's highest finish at the NCAAs with a 26th-place showing in the 200 free. After falling 4.5 points short of the BIG EAST title in 2006-07, Welsh revved up the engines and guided the Irish to championship runs in 2007-08 and 2008-09. One of the greatest races in Notre Dame history capped off the 2009 league meet behind the efforts of that season's 400 free relay quartet: Danny Lutkus, Joshua Nosal, John Lytle and Andrew Hoffman. A seven-second underdog to the Louisville relay team heading into the final race of the meet, the foursome pulled off the upset in dramatic fashion to secure the program's second consecutive league title. Twelve school records fell during that 2009 event.
Coming off a BIG EAST title in 2005, a lot of expectations were placed upon the 2005-06 team and they delivered with a second straight league championship. The Fighting Irish claimed three event titles at the conference meet and produced 13 all-BIG EAST performers en route to the 224.5-point victory over Pittsburgh and the rest of the 11-team field. A total of seven school records were set during the season. Michael Bulfin became just the third student-athlete in program history to qualify for the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships and the second in as many seasons, following swimmer Tim Kegelman, who did so in 2005. Bulfin returned to the NCAAs in 2008 and scored Notre Dame's first points ever at the national meet. In the fall of 2004, Notre Dame appeared in the CSCAA dual meet rankings for the first time ever as the Irish debuted at No. 21. In 2005-06, the Irish climbed to No. 18 in the rankings, which was a program-best mark until the 2007-08 squad earned a No. 17 ranking.
The 2004-05 season also witnessed Notre Dame's first NCAA Championships participant in the Welsh era, and just the second in the history of the program. Kegelman swam in the 100 fly, 200 fly and the 200 IM at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. The sophomore was also one of six Notre Dame swimmers to take home BIG EAST titles in 2004-05. For his team's accomplishments, Welsh was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the third time in six years.
A key factor behind the success of the Fighting Irish program during the 2004-05 season was senior Frank Krakowski. He left Notre Dame holding five University records, along with being a six-time all-BIG EAST performer. Krakowski was also tabbed as a CSCAA All-Academic swimmer.
The 2003-04 campaign provided a glimpse of the bright future of Notre Dame men's swimming and diving. The Irish faced their toughest schedule in school history and responded by setting eight school records. Notre Dame posted 584 points at the BIG EAST Championship to finish as conference runner-up. Among the highlights of that meet was the first-ever Irish 1-2 finish in the meet, as Jamie Lutkus and David Moisan topped the field in the 400 individual medley.
Notre Dame also posted runner-up finishes in the 1999 and 2000 BIG EAST Championships. The Irish delivered a school-record time in 1999 to win the final event of the meet, the 400 free relay, to edge Syracuse by one point for second place. Welsh was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year, capping a season in which the Irish broke 16 of 19 University records.
Notre Dame reset eight varsity records in 1999-2000 in finishing second in the BIG EAST Championships once again.
Other highlights of Welsh's tenure as men's coach at Notre Dame are 10 seasons with 10 or more dual-meet victories, including a 12-1 mark in 1989-90, the best record in school history. The Irish also were 11-1 in 1997-98 and set the school record for wins in a season in both 1987-88 and 1990-91 with identical 13-3 marks.
Prior to joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Welsh's Irish won six Midwestern Collegiate Conference championships in seven years (1986-92) and took six consecutive titles in the National Catholic Invitational (1989-94).
The Irish women's coach from 1985-86 through 1994-95, Welsh's teams posted a 93-50-1 (.649) dual meet record, winning Midwest Collegiate Conference titles in each season from 1987-95. His teams also claimed the Eastern Intercollegiate championship twice. The first title came in 1990 and the second in 1995, when the last women's program Welsh coached finished with the best record in school history, 14-1.
During his 10 years at the helm of the women's program, Welsh sent 11 swimmers to the NCAA Championships, including three-time All-American Tanya Williams. In that span, every Irish women's University record was broken.
Prior to coming to Notre Dame in 1985, Welsh spent eight years as the head men's and women's coach at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Md. The New York native led the men's squad to a mark of 65-36, including two NCAA Division III national championships and eight Middle Atlantic Conference titles. The women's team also was successful under Welsh, earning a Middle Atlantic Conference championship while achieving six seasons at .500 or better.
Welsh graduated magna cum laude from Providence College in 1966. He went on to earn his master's degree at the University of Virginia in 1967. Welsh became the men's assistant coach at Syracuse in 1974 after leaving Winthrop College (S.C.), where he had taught English. During his four years at Syracuse, Welsh continued to teach English and designed and ran the training program before joining the Hopkins swimming program.
Welsh continued a career of world travel, as he took his team to Ireland during the winter of the 2004-05 season. Previously, he traveled to Bogota, Colombia, in the spring of 1985 as a clinician and instructor for Sports America Program of the U.S. State Department and took his Irish squad to Portugal in the summer of 1991. Welsh and the 1996-97 Irish ventured to Brazil over Christmas break for a nationally televised meet featuring international Olympic swimmers. From 2008 to the present, the Irish have trekked to Puerto Rico for the program's annual winter training session.
Welsh was awarded the Richard E. Steadman Award by the College Swim Coaches Association in 1993. The award, given annually to a swimming or diving coach in the high school, club or university ranks who, in the opinion of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc., and the College Swim Coaches Association, has done the most to spread joy and happiness in swimming.
Notre Dame proudly bestowed its Presidential Achievement Award to Welsh in 2009, which recognizes a University employee who lives the University's mission and is a role model exemplifying all of the school's core values.
Welsh's student-athletes have been traditionally strong in the classroom, as well as in the Rolfs Aquatic Center. Perennially on Collegiate Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Scholar All-America list (which ranks teams according to grade-point average), the Irish claimed the top spot in the 1999 season and have been in the top 10 eight times since 1990. The program was honored in 2009 with the BIG EAST Team Excellence Award, which recognizes the highest collective grade-point averages in each conference sport. That year's team finished with a 3.272 grade index. In 2012, Bill Bass became the first CSCAA Scholar All-American in program history, a feat the Frank Dyer also accomplished in 2013.
Following his 29th season as head coach at Notre Dame, Welsh ranked behind only track and field's Joe Piane (39 seasons) as the longest-serving program leader at the University. He also was awarded an honorary monogram from Notre Dame's National Monogram Club and has seen six of his swimmers garner the Byron V. Kanaley Award, the most prestigious honor an Irish student-athlete can achieve.
Welsh was honored for his special service to the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) and the sport of swimming by receiving the ASCA's distinguished Ousley Service Award in 2004. One of Welsh's key developments is the ASCA Fellows Program - which is designed to professionally and thoroughly prepare the next generation of coaching leaders. In fact, Welsh was named president of the ASCA in September 2009 with the term coming to a close in the fall of 2011.
Welsh received the CSCAA's Distinguished Service Award for his 35 years of service in college coaching and was deemed the organization's Division I men's representative on its Board of Directors in 2009. Swimming World Magazine highlighted Welsh along with school record-holder MacKenzie LeBlanc in a fall 2008 issue. The pair shared training tips and personal experiences in one of the sport's most recognized publications.
Welsh also completed a two-year term as the president of the BIG EAST's swim coaches group in 2013, prior to Notre Dame's entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
A published writer and master motivator, Welsh and his wife, Jacqueline (who served as curator of education in the Notre Dame Snite Museum of Art prior to her retirement), are the parents of two sons. Tim, a 2002 Notre Dame graduate, participated in the University's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program before completing his English Ph.D. program at the University of Washington. John is a 2005 Notre Dame graduate.