On Sunday, the Robert Morris University Athletics Department announced the death of former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Joe Walton at the age of 85.
While Walton is most widely remembered for the 23 seasons he spent coaching in the NFL, the final 20 years of his coaching career came as head coach at Robert Morris, a private university in suburban Pittsburgh. In fact, he started the school’s football program from scratch in 1983 and went on to compile a record of 114-92-1. During that period he was named Northeast Conference (NEC) Coach of the Year four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2010). He also led the Colonials to a perfect 10-0 season in 2000.
Walton was subsequently inducted into the RMU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013, with the school having already named its stadium after him in 2005. (Joe Walton Stadium hosted its first game on Sept. 17, 2005, a 49-13 victory against Butler.)
During his two-decade run as head coach of the Colonials, three of his players made it to the NFL: Running back Tim Hall (1994-95) was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth round of the 1996 NFL Draft (No. 183 overall), while offensive lineman Hank Fraley (1996-99) spent 10 years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams, starting at center for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Last but not least, former defensive back Robb Butler (2002-03) played in five games for the San Diego Chargers in 2004.
Walton Starred as a Receiver at the University of Pittsburgh
Joe Walton’s long and distinguished football career got underway in earnest at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was an end from 1954-56. His touchdown-per-catch ratio was off the charts, as he scored 14 touchdowns on just 41 career receptions, good enough to earn first-team All-America honors in 1956, when he caught 21 passes for 360 yards and six TDs.
He was drafted into the NFL by the Washington Redskins, selected in the second round of the 1957 Draft (No. 21 overall). He went on to play seven seasons in the league (1957-63), the first four with Washington and the last three with the New York Giants. During those years he appeared in 82 games and caught 178 passes for 2,628 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Joe Walton’s NFL Coaching Career Spanned 23 Years
It was the Giants who gave Walton his first NFL coaching job, following up four years as a scout by serving as New York’s wide receivers coach in 1969-70 and then offensive coordinator between 1971-73. He went on to hold the same title in Washington from 1978-80 and then moved on to become offensive coordinator of the New York Jets between 1981-82. In 1983, he was hired as head coach of the Jets, and he continued in that role through the 1989 season, after which he spent his last two NFL seasons as offensive coordinator with Chuck Noll’s Steelers.
During his stints as an NFL offensive coordinator, Walton worked with some of the finest quarterbacks of his day, including Joe Theismann and Fran Tarkenton.
In 111 games as head coach of the Jets, he compiled a record of 53-57-1.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Walton is survived by his second wife, Patty Sheehan Walton, as well as the three children—daughters Jodi and Stacy and son, Joe—that he had with his late wife Ginger, who passed away in 2007.
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