For new Robert Morris coach Banaszak, football isn't just strategy

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

He knows all about properly aligning players, calling a blitz and designing a zone defense, but John Banaszak realizes coaching college football is much more than strategy.

That's one of the reasons Robert Morris named Banaszak its coach-in-waiting Tuesday. Banaszak will continue to serve under head coach Joe Walton, 76, before taking over after the 2013 season, when Walton will retire.

"I believe I have to be much more than a football coach," said Banaszak, who is Walton's assistant head coach. "I have to be a teacher, counselor, therapist, surrogate father figure and role model to (the players). I cherish the role of a football coach more than I do the job as a football coach."

Plus, there is one more duty Banaszak neglected to mention — restoring Robert Morris as a contender in the Northeast Conference after the Colonials have posted losing records in five of the past seven seasons.

But building — or, in this case, rebuilding — is nothing new to Robert Morris, which hired Walton in 1993 to coach a program that didn't exist. The school didn't begin playing football until 1994, starting from "less than scratch," according President Gregory G. Dell'Omo.

But Walton, a two-time All-American tight end at Pitt, former coach of the New York Jets and offensive coordinator of the Steelers, stepped in seamlessly. He bought jock straps and towels while recruiting players. He started to win immediately.

Robert Morris didn't have is first losing season until 1998, was ranked No. 1 among Division 1-AA mid-major programs in 1999-2000 and has won or shared six Northeast Conference championships. In 2005, the program's success spawned construction of an on-campus football stadium, named after Walton.

"We made a lot of history to this point, but there is an awful lot of history to be made on this campus," Banaszak said.

Walton, who signed a two-year contract extension last year, said naming his successor bolsters the program's stability.

"This seemed like the best solution for us to make sure all the recruits know everything is going to be the same, and they are going to be in good hands," he said.

Banaszak, who won three Super Bowls as a defensive lineman with the Steelers of the 1970s, said he brings experience gained from the four football coaches he knows best: Walton, former Steelers coach Chuck Noll; John Luckhardt, who hired him at Washington & Jefferson; and former Eastern Michigan coach Dan Boisture.

From Noll, he learned to respect the game's fundamentals.

"It's all about blocking and tackling," Banaszak said. "The game is won by the team that can do the fundamentals the best."

Banaszak, 61, began his college coaching career at Washington & Jefferson, where he was an assistant and head football coach and head baseball coach. While leading the W&J football program, he won 38 of 47 games and was named Presidents' Athletic Conference coach of the year in each of his four seasons before joining Robert Morris in 2003.

Banaszak said his office door will always be open for the players.

"They are going to know I am much more than a football coach," he said. "The next four years of their life are not going to be a smooth road. There are going to be some bumps in that road. I want them to feel very comfortable to be able to come in, close the door and ask me for my help and my advice.

"I think that is very important. This is much more than just the game of football for them. It's their future, and I take it very seriously."

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