Flyers say goodbye to a legend

Coaches often say, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s but more about the Jims and the Joes.”

For the past 19 years it’s been all about one Joe at Robert Morris University. Former NFL player and coach Joe Walton is the only coach in the history of the football program. He literally built it from scratch, buying equipment, hiring assistants, lining the field and recruiting players.

This is his final season, as he leaves behind a stadium on the suburban Pittsburgh campus that bears his name, a league-high six NEC regular-season titles, NCAA mid-major national titles in 1999 and 2000, and in 2010 the school’s first spot in the FCS playoffs.

But in all that time, he has actually put more players into the NFL (3; Tim Hall, Hank Fraley, Robb Butler) than he has victories over the University of Dayton (2). The Flyers won the first meeting in 1996, 31-21, and Saturday’s 20-14 victory at Welcome Stadium tipped UD’s edge in the series to 13-2.

Robert Morris has played Dayton more than any nonconference foe, and against teams they have faced 15 times or more, UD is the only one against which Walton has a losing record.

Joe Walton’s frustration may have boiled to the surface in 2008. Robert Morris, as a member of the NEC, gives 32 athletic scholarships, while Dayton plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League. After another loss, Walton speculated that UD must be giving scholarships to have players that good. That prompted the mother of Corey and Scott Vossler to send him a copy of her tuition bill.

I think the reason Dayton has fared so well in the series is Walton. His hard-nosed style and pro pedigree have caused Flyer teams, even undermanned ones, to rise to the occasion. As he heads into retirement I will miss Joe Walton, not because the Flyers had his number, but rather because he made the Flyers better.

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