Former New York Jets head coach Joe Walton dies at 85

Walton’s 54 wins as a head coach are good for second in New York Jets history and he also spent four seasons as a tight end for the Giants.

Former New York Jets head coach Joe Walton passed away on Sunday at the age of 85. His passing was confirmed through an announcement from Robert Morris University athletics. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Walton spent seven years (1983-89) at the helm of the Jets, posting a 54-59-1 record (including 1-2 in the playoffs). His 54 wins are the second-best tally in team history behind only Weeb Ewbank’s 71. Walton previously served as the Jets’ offensive coordinator for two seasons (1981-82).

“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 [sic], Joe fielded some of the franchise’s 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 entered the NFL in 1957 as a second-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins, following in his father Frank’s footsteps. The younger Walton, a defensive end and later a tight end, had been a unanimous All-American at Pittsburgh before his NFL entry. He went on to play 82 games over seven seasons and was traded to the New York Giants in 1961. Walton’s most notable moment as a player came in 1962 when he caught Y.A. Tittle’s record-tying seventh touchdown pass in a single game, a 49-34 win over Washington.

After retiring due to injuries in 1964, Walton became a Giants scout (1965-68) and later the receivers’ coach (1969-73) before going back to Washington as the running backs coach (1974-77) and offensive coordinator (1978-80). He ended his NFL tenure as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator after his Jets tenure ended (1990-91).

Despite his success in the NFL, Walton is perhaps best known for his endeavors at Robert Morris University. He built the Colonials’ football program from scratch at the Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) level and guided the team to Northeast Conference championships in each of its first five seasons as a member, a stretch that included a perfect 10-0 record in 2000. In 2010, Walton and the Colonials earned the NEC’s first FCS playoff berth with an 8-3 mark.

RMU’s athletic stadium, which opened in 2005 bears Walton’s name. He would spend 20 seasons as the program’s head coach before retiring after the 2013 campaign. Walton was inducted into the university’s athletic hall of fame in that same here, his induction hosted by former NFL protege Joe Theismann. Other notable names to work under Walton’s watch included Fran Tarkenton and Ken O’Brien.

“Joe loved football. In a career that spanned six decades, he served as a player, scout, and coach-all while making a positive impression on the people he crossed paths with,” Jets owner Woody Johnson added in another statement. “While he did everything he could for this franchise, his legacy is that of a person who gave his all to the sport, going on to help grow the game by starting a football program at Robert Morris University and giving many others the opportunity to be part of the game.”

Walton is survived by his second wife Patty (his first wife Ginger passed in 2007) and their three children, Jodi, Stacy, and Joe.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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