Walton leaves lasting legacy at Robert Morris
College Football Videos
Joe Walton won't allow himself time to reflect on his 20 years as Robert Morris' only football coach.
With two games remaining and a seventh Northeast Conference championship within reach, there still is much to do.
“I've approached this season as business as usual,” said Walton, 77, who will retire from coaching and work as a special assistant to athletic director Craig Coleman. “I'm still doing the same things I do every week.”
When pressed on the subject, Walton is forthright and accommodating. Like when he described touring the campus in 1993 with Edward Nicholson, then the university's growth-minded president trying to sell the notion of starting a Division I-AA (now FBC) football program from scratch.
“We walked around, and I thought, ‘This place is a dump,' ” Walton recalled. “The dormitories were half-full and a little run down. There was so much that needed to be done.”
Walton accepted the challenge and did what needed to be done. In the first season in 1994, playing in a high school stadium with 64 freshmen, none on scholarship, Walton and the Colonials went 7-1-1.
Eventually the scholarships would come, along with charter membership in the NEC, a record six championships and a new football complex anchored by Joe Walton Stadium.
Walton had nurtured a program from birth to adulthood. Maintaining family ties, he even hand-picked longtime assistant coach John Banaszak to succeed him.
Walton, who will be inducted into the RMU Hall of Fame on Friday, said he still can't grasp his name adorning the stadium. Modesty has been his signature. Despite Walton's impressive background, Coleman said, “it was never the case with him” to act superior or condescending or to big-time anyone. “He's a humble guy.”
Several years ago, Walton congratulated college basketball coach Bob Knight on his 900th win. Walton began his letter by suggesting that Knight might not be familiar with him. Wrong.
“You are mistaken in my not knowing you,” Knight wrote, recounting Walton's playing career as an All-America end at Pitt and later with the Giants and Redskins and his many years as an NFL assistant and head coach.
“No one could know more about what it takes to win than you do,” Knight continued. He called Walton “one of the great competitors ever to play the game.”
After his last NFL job in 1991 as a Steelers assistant under Chuck Noll, Walton took a year off from coaching. He missed it and decided to take the plunge at RMU. He wanted to stay close to his home in Beaver Falls, where his wife, Ginger, battling cancer, was familiar with the doctors (she died in 2007). Walton took a huge pay cut from his Steelers job and turned down other NFL offers, but he always said it was worth it. Meanwhile, the place he called a dump has grown into a vibrant university.
“The school has come a long way since I started,” he said. “I'd like to think I helped.”
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- Kanye, Cyrus and Minaj provide memorable moments at VMAs
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- New Kensington firemen honor fallen brother, ‘hero’
- Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
- Pitt basketball team starting to get injured players back
- Board members bring business attitude to nonprofit August Wilson
- Steelworkers scoff at ATI earnings claim
- ‘Super giant’ natural gas field found off Egypt in Mediterranean Sea