Joe Walton, the former New York Jets coach who built Robert Morris University’s football program from the ground up, has died. He was 85.
Robert Morris announced in an obituary posted on its website that Walton died Sunday. No cause of death was provided.
Walton, a native of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania — the hometown of Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Namath — coached the Jets for seven years and went 53-57-1 while leading New York to the playoffs twice.
A former NFL tight end for Washington and the Giants, Walton caught 178 passes for 2,628 yards and 28 touchdowns in seven seasons. He retired from playing after the 1963 season and joined the Giants as a scout two years later. Walton was promoted to wide receivers coach in 1969, a role he would serve for five years before going to Washington as the running backs coach.
Walton became Washington’s offensive coordinator in 1978 and moved to the Jets in the same role in 1981. He replaced Walt Michaels as the Jets’ head coach in 1983 and had one of the more successful coaching runs for the franchise with the two playoff runs, but he was fired after a 4-12 season in 1989.
“Joe Walton poured his heart into this franchise for nine seasons,” the Jets said in a statement. “Joining us as an offensive coordinator before taking over as the head coach, Joe fielded some of the franchise’s most productive offenses and helped the teams to four playoff appearances during his tenure.
“He was a good man who cared for his players and loved the game of football.”
Walton closed out his NFL coaching career in Pittsburgh, where he served as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator for two years.
Among the quarterbacks Walton worked with during his NFL career were Joe Theismann, Fran Tarkenton, Norm Snead, Ken O’Brien and Richard Todd.
In 1993, Walton was hired as the first coach in Robert Morris history and built the program by recruiting players, hiring assistants and even buying equipment for the team to play in its first season in 1994.
It was the beginning of a 20-year run during which the Colonials won outright Northeast Conference championships three times — in 1997, ‘99 and 2000 — and shared three others — 1996, ’98 and 2010. Walton also led Robert Morris to consecutive ECAC Bowl victories in 1996 and ’97.
Walton finished 114-92-1 at the school, was a four-time conference coach of the year and is one of just a few men to win 50 games as a head coach in both the NFL and college. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2013. The football stadium is also named after him.
“Coach Walton took our football program from nothing to something special,” Robert Morris senior associate athletic director Marty Galosi said in a statement. “The fact that he built it from scratch and won early on was a bonus. He was a great coach, but he was a better man as well as a role model for all of the student-athletes and coaches that were under his tutelage. His legacy at RMU will last a long time.”
The son of former Washington guard Frank “Tiger” Walton, Joe Walton was an All-America selection at tight end twice at the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted by Washington in the second round in 1957.
Walton, who moved back to Beaver Falls in 1990, was married for 47 years before wife Ginger died in 2007. They had three children — daughters Jodi and Stacy, and son Joe — and six grandchildren. Walton also is survived by his second wife, Patty Sheehan Walton.
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