Joe Walton: The end of an era

Joe Walton means everything to the Robert Morris football program, while the Robert Morris football program means everything to Joe Walton. The program’s founder, leader and only head coach for over twenty years is set to retire at the end of the 2013 season. As Walton hangs up the spikes to put a close on his legendary career, his memory will surely live on throughout the campus community.

“I don’t know where those twenty years went,” he said. “But I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Walton founded the football program at Robert Morris in 1993 after a long career as both a player and coach in the NFL. Most recently an offensive coordinator for the Steelers two years prior, Walton described what drove him to leaving the professional level and starting a program from scratch at a small school like RMU.

“My first wife was quite ill at the time, and I was dealing with UPMC to get her taken care of. I didn’t think it was the time for us to be moving or going someplace else. I had several opportunities to stay in the NFL, but I just didn’t want to move again,” said Walton. “Corky Cost and Dr. Bill Amos, who I played with at Pitt, were both on the board at RMU. They both mentioned to me about Robert Morris investigating starting a football program.”

And the rest was history. Before he knew it, his team was atop the Northeast Conference by 1996, running the table to a 9-2 record as Walton was named coach of the year. Robert Morris spent the following next three seasons as conference champions, making their mark as a legitimate I-AA program. They won two mid-major national championships in 1999 and 2000, and earned the first ever automatic playoff bid out of the NEC in 2010, cementing their head coach’s spot in the college football hall of fame.

“I had never coached college kids before. I thought that would be kind of fun. I figured I’d stay there a few years until my wife was feeling better, and then go back to the NFL,” Walton explained. “As I stayed here and got to know people around the college, I started to really enjoy it. It was a great experience and I wouldn’t change anything right now.”

But as Walton described it, his favorite memory with the program came far before all the success.

“One of my most exciting times in football period was taking that group of guys down to Waynesburg College and winning that first game,” said Walton. “It’s something that’s so amazing to me that we were able to pull that off. It’s one of the highlights of my career.”

What comes next for the legendary coach? It has already been announced that at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign, Walton will be promoted as a special assistant to athletic director Dr. Craig Coleman, working within the athletic department on day-to-day operations.

“I think it’s time for me to back off and let these younger guys take over,” said Walton. “In all phases of my life, I’ve never looked back. I’ve always just put it aside and went for the new challenge. I’m anxious to find out the operations of the athletic director and what I can do to help him.”

Walton may not be at the helm of the football team next year when camp starts in August, but he does have a high regard for the future of the program, along with the presuming coach in waiting, John Banaszak.

“Coach Banaszak brings a tremendous amount of knowledge about football. The players like him, and he’s a very good recruiter. I think John’s a great choice and I’m very happy for him,” said Walton. “I think the program will continue to grow. Who knows, it may not happen in our lifetime, but there could be a day where we move up even further.”

It will sure be different next fall when the Colonials take the field at Joe Walton Stadium without their long-time leader. But the RMU community should not feel sad because it’s over, but rather smile because it happened. Walton has done so much for the school and athletic community in his time here at Robert Morris, and his legacy truly will live on forever.