Joe Walton passes away at 85
The football lifer spent seven seasons as Jets head coach from 1983 to 1989, the second-longest-tenured man at the post in franchise history.
Walton’s 111 games coached are second only to Weeb Ewbank‘s 154. His 53 wins also rank second in Jets history, once again falling short of Ewbank (71).
In three playoff games with the organization, Walton’s teams went 1-2. The most painful loss of his entire regime came in Cleveland to put a stinging capper on the rollercoaster 1986 season.
Walton’s high-flying 1980s Jets
Many longtime Jets fans remember Walton for his high-flying 1980s offense mainly led by Ken O’Brien, Wesley Walker and Al Toon. After serving as New York’s offensive coordinator in 1981 and 1982, he took over for the beloved Walt Michaels in 1983.
The first season didn’t build upon those positive AFC championship game vibes of 1982, as Walton’s ’83 squad finished 7-9 (fifth in the division).
After another 7-9 campaign in 1984, the O’Brien Jets broke out. The 1985 NFL season saw New York win 11 games and its young quarterback named to the Pro Bowl. It was Toon’s first as a pro and a preview of what was to come.
The Jets then burst out of the 1986 gate to a league-best 10-1 mark after 11 games. Unfortunately, Walton’s club lost its last five games of the season, barely qualifying for the tournament.
O’Brien’s shaky play opened the door for Walton to controversially turn to veteran backup Pat Ryan. Ultimately, it paid off as Ryan’s three touchdown passes led the Jets to a wild card win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The divisional round saw the Jets just a few minutes away from another AFC championship game appearance. Up 10 points on the Cleveland Browns with just 4:14 to go in regulation, Walton’s team choked the game away, eventually falling in double-overtime, a game later dubbed The Marathon by the Lake.
Walton’s final three seasons witnessed the Jets go a combined 18-28-1 without playoff action. The most notable game from the final three years came in 1988 when the Jets kept a talented Bill Parcells-led New York Giants team from the playoffs.
He was eventually replaced by hot Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet prior to the 1990 season.
Joe Walton’s legacy
Born in Beaver Falls, PA, the same birthplace as Joe Namath, Walton entered the league all the way back in 1957 as a second-round pick of the Washington Football Team. He played both end and tight end over the course of his seven-year NFL career.
After four years in Washington, he played three more with the Giants. In 1961, he hauled in 36 receptions for 544 yards. A year later, he tallied 406 yards through the air and a career-high nine touchdown receptions.
The Giants then kickstarted Walton’s coaching career after his playing days concluded. He first served as a scout from 1965 to 1968, and then as the wide receivers coach from 1969 to 1973.
In 1978, after four seasons as Washington’s running backs coach, he was elevated to offensive coordinator, a post he held until the Jets scooped him up in 1981.
The All-American Pitt standout returned home to construct and build the Robert Morris University football program after his NFL coaching days concluded in 1991 (after two seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator). Walton served as the Robert Morris head coach from 1994 to 2013.
Walton’s wife Ginger, with whom he shared 47 years of marriage, died in 2007. They had two daughters, Jodi and Stacy, and a son, Joe, in addition to six grandchildren.
In spite of any of the casual fan frustration through the years—especially that of the 1980s Jets fan—Joe Walton’s head coaching legacy remains firmly intact. He should be remembered as the leading football mind who brought offensive fun back to the New York Jets.