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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 29 2012

Longtime Robert Morris football coach returns to Fargo

Fargo

Moon Township, Pa., is a few hours from the fast urban pace of New York City. In many ways for Joe Walton, the distance is more like a trip to Mars.

It was another life, being the head coach of the New York Jets, which by the way was an extension of his life as an NFL player for the New York Giants. He loves to travel and his Robert Morris University (Pa.) football team is flying to Fargo this weekend to play North Dakota State Saturday night.

Certainly, the same game day feelings will exist, just as they did with the Giants and just as they did with the Jets. What’s missing, perhaps, is the pressure cooker that followed him.

The NFL is apples. Robert Morris, where he has been the program’s only coach, is oranges.

“I’m very proud of my experience here at Robert Morris,” said the 76-year-old Walton. “I’m close to everybody at campus. I’d like to think our football program has had something to do with our growth. It’s been a great run.”

His 20-year run as head coach will end next year when he hands the reins to assistant John Banaszak, who also happens to be a former NFL player. He has two Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Walton said he still gets players occasionally asking about the NFL experience, which he said helps recruiting more than anything else. New York sportswriters still call him from time to time.

He harbors no ill feelings with New York. The end came when he got fired, but he’s long accepted that and moved on.

“People think maybe I ended on a sour note when I got fired,” Walton said. “No, I love New York. They have knowledgeable fans who are demanding, but if you succeed, they never forget you. We were one step away from the Super Bowl, I had a good time and if you don’t win, then you’re out. That’s the way it happens.”

That’s not the case at RMU, at least to that extreme. Last year’s 2-9 record was his worst in 18 years at the school, but – unlike New York – nobody is calling for his head.

There were a couple of other clunker seasons like 2-8 in 2005. But overall, Walton has built a winner winning six Northeast Conference titles and becoming the first league member to earn an FSC playoff automatic berth – which happened to be at NDSU two years ago that resulted in a 43-17 Bison win.

His record is 105-79-1.

He said his young team last year took its lumps after the title team of two years ago when the Colonials had 16 seniors.

“I feel a lot better now than last year at this time,” Walton said.

Scheduling NDSU, he said, is a result of a Northeast Conference suggestion to play better competition. The league has continued to increase scholarship limits going from 30 to 40 last year.

Starting his own program. Seeing the league get better. His football life will have two distinct and separate legacies: the NFL and Robert Morris, one probably not better than the other.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.