Gorman: Walker's winning way fueled by failures
Before his game against North Allegheny, Butler coach Clyde Conti shot friendly fire in the direction of Art Walker.
While catching throws from Tigers quarterback Mack Leftwich in pre-game warmups, the former Clarion University All-America receiver cracked to his old coach, “Still got it.”
Conti, who gave Walker his first coaching job at Clarion-Limestone, reminded the North Allegheny coach that Baldwin had an 0-9 record during Walker's senior season.
“If you're going to insult me, get it right,” Walker shot back. “It was 0-10.”
Walker, 42, has won five WPIAL Class AAAA championships, two at Central Catholic and three consecutive at North Allegheny, and is attempting to win his third PIAA championship.
For or all of his success, Walker admits that he is fueled by failure. At Baldwin, his teams endured back-to-back 0-10 seasons amid a 26-game winless streak.
“It is a motivating factor for me, I'm not going to lie,” Walker said Wednesday on my TribLIVE Radio Show. “When I started coaching, I made kind of a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to make sure that everybody who played for me, whether I was a head coach or assistant coach, did not experience what I experienced.
“It was not a lot of fun. It was not enjoyable. You worked very, very hard and spent a lot of time and effort and hours in trying your best to compete and win football games — and we didn't. We didn't win many at all.”
Thus, it's not by accident that North Allegheny has won 43 of its past 45. It's a feat that is almost as impressive as Clairton's state-record 61-game winning streak, given that the Tigers play in the state's highest classification.
The son of a legendary Mt. Lebanon coach is an excellent communicator known for his game preparation and play-calling, intensity and laser-like focus. Walker has turned the personal disappointment of his high school career into professional achievement as one of the top coaches in the WPIAL.
“I made sure that my focus is going to be to try to always put our kids in the situation to at least have an opportunity to win, to be in the game, and at least walk off the field with their heads held high, knowing they did everything they possibly could,” Walker said. “It's something I don't want to experience again. And it's something I don't want the guys who play for me or coach with me to experience, either.
“It's going to be with me. It's not so much a negative now as it is a motivating factor. I use it to understand that we're having a heck of a run with this group of kids.”
A run that Walker wants to end with another PIAA Quad-A championship. His Tigers (14-0) are in the state semifinals for the third consecutive year and need only a victory over West Lawn Wilson to play in Hershey for the PIAA title.
“Twenty years or so from now, when that time comes, they're going to be talking about him as one of the all-time greats,” Conti said. “He's that good of a coach.”