Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When his football players are laughing
around Joe Walton, he's not always sure how to perceive it.
"I don't know if they're laughing with me," he says, "or at me."
In truth, Joe Walton has found a way to relate to countless players through
his long coaching career, some of whom today are nearly 60 years younger than
The coaching icon, 77, hasn't quite reached the golden years yet, even if that
description would be perfect for his two decades of coaching at Robert Morris
University in suburban Pittsburgh.
Walton is set to enter his 20th and final season as the only head football
coach in Colonials history. The western Pennsylvania native, loving life back
home in his native Beaver Falls, Pa., is still adding to the program that he
has built from the ground up, beginning in 1993.
Having enjoyed a long career in the NFL, most notably as the New York Jets'
head coach from 1983-89, Walton has found college coaching to be particularly
rewarding. He's led RMU to 110 wins in 19 seasons as well as six Northeast
Conference titles, including a 10-0 season in 2000 and with a 2010 squad that
became the first to represent the conference in the FCS playoffs.
RMU even named its stadium after Walton in 2005.
He will become a special assistant to athletic director Dr. Craig Coleman
after his final season, turning the head coaching reins over to assistant head
coach John Banaszak.
Walton wants to end his career with a championship season. Regardless, it will
be an emotional ride as the ol' coach takes his final lap with a program that
he says "has been the love of my life."
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five
answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Walton discusses his upcoming
Let's kick off:
TSN: What are some of the things you will try to savor in your final season at
JW: Try to win every game if I can - that's the most important thing. Listen,
it's been a great run. We were talking the other day, my wife (Patty) and I,
and starting with my sophomore year in high school, this is my 63rd training
camp, coming up. Can you imagine, 63 years I've been doing this.
I don't know how I'm going to be. I think the season itself will be kind of
normal, but after the season's over, I'm not so sure how I'm going to be, not
doing something I've been doing all my life. I don't know, I'll have to wait
and see how I react.
TSN: Players are always complaining about two-a-days and working out in the
heat. How does a coach perceive 63 training camps?
JW: I don't know where they came and where they've gone (he laughs). It seems
unbelievable to me. It's just been a part of my life. Every year, as soon as
training camp starts, you know you're gonna work seven days a week until the
season's over and, hopefully, longer if you make the playoffs.
It's just been a way of life for me. My dad (Frank "Tiger" Walton) was a
coach, so when I was young, I was involved with some of his teams. Football
has always been very important to me. And serious.
TSN: What has surprised you about coaching at Robert Morris through the years?
JW: Oh, the kids. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed it. I wasn't sure. I
had never coached college kids, I'd always coached in pro football when I took
this job. Plus, it was starting from scratch. We didn't have anything, we
didn't have a football cleats or helmets, nothing. We had to buy all new
equipment, we had to get a place to play, a place to practice and we had to
get some offices. It was just a whirlwind those first two or three years.
And then I settled in. I had a chance to get back into pro ball a couple
times. I was enjoying myself too much. A lot less pressure. The kids want to
learn. When we started out, we were non-scholarship. We get some scholarships
now. So I had a bunch of kids that just liked to play football. It was very
refreshing and very rewarding to work with them. It's been a great run, it
TSN: Is there a tough part to relating to today's players?
JW: Yeah, I think I've changed with them a little bit. Some of the things that
have changed are kind of refreshing, some I'm a little dubious about. You have
to adjust, and I think that's kept me young, too.
Being around the kids and the kind of music they like, the way they want to
fold their shirts. There's all kinds of little things, like, 'What the heck
are they doing that for?' If it makes them happy, most of the time I'm willing
to go along with them.
TSN: With your returning talent, how do you think your squad stacks up with
the Northeast Conference?
JW: I think we'll be competitive. We've got to get a little better, but at
least we've got some guys with experience. The last couple years, we've been
playing with a lot of sophomores and freshmen. To give you an example, a
couple years ago, when we had the (2010) championship team, we graduated 16
seniors. Last year, we graduated five starters - three on defense and two on
We have some guys that have played and know what it takes in our conference. I
think that's going to be a plus from the very beginning.
The Sports Network