Joe Walton, a longtime coach whose career included a seven-year run as head coach of the New York Jets, died on Sunday at the age of 85. Walton’s death was announced by Robert Morris University, where he coached for 20 seasons after starting the football program in 1993.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (the same hometown as Jets Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath), Walton was selected by Washington in the second round of the 1957 draft following a successful college career at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent his first four seasons in Washington before playing the final three seasons of his career with the Giants. New York was 33-8-1 during Walton’s three seasons with the franchise.
Walton broke into coaching as the Giants receivers coach in 1969. He served as the team’s offensive coordinator for three seasons before joining George Allen’s staff in Washington in 1974. Like he did in New York, Walton started his time in Washington as a position coach before getting promoted to offensive coordinator. His success as Washington’s offensive coordinator led to him receiving the same position with the Jets in 1981. After two years in that position (that included a run to the AFC Championship Game in 1982), Walton was promoted to head coach in 1983, a position he would hold for the remainder of the decade.
The Jets went 7-9 during Walton’s first two seasons before going 11-5 and earning a wild-card playoff berth in 1985. In 1986, the Jets defeated the Chiefs in the wild card round before falling in double-overtime to Marty Schottenheimer’s Browns in the divisional round. The Jets during Walton’s era were led by quarterback Ken O’Brien, running back Freeman McNeil, receivers Al Toon and Wesley Walker and tight end Mickey Shuler. The Jets’ defense, known as the “New York Sack Exchange,” was led by defensive end Mark Gastineau and versatile defensive lineman Joe Klecko.
“Joe Walton poured his heart into this franchise for nine seasons,” the Jets wrote in a statement Sunday night. “Joining us as an offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach, Joe fielded some of the franchises most productive offenses and helped the team to four playoff appearances during his tenure. He was a good man, who cared for his players, and loved the game of football.”
Walton’s final NFL coaching position was with the Steelers, where he served as Chuck Noll’s final offensive coordinator before the four-time Super Bowl champion coach retired after the 1991 season. Walton remained in Pittsburgh, where founded the Robert Morris football program. During his two-decade run with the Colonials, Walton guided the team to its first conference title (1996) as well as the program’s first perfect season (2000). The program received its first bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs in 2010 after winning its sixth conference title.