RMU football coaching candidate: West Allegheny’s Bob Palko

With the recent resignation of RMU football head coach John Banaszak, RMU Sentry Media examines the candidates who could be the third head coach in the program’s history


Photo credit: Matthew Belo

Logan Carney, @SentryCarney

When conducting a search for candidates to replace to former football coach John Banaszak, Robert Morris can look to some local legends as a possible replacement. One of those is longtime West Allegheny head coach Bob Palko, who is rumored to be a top candidate for the position.

For those who love WPIAL football, Bob Palko’s name is one of legend. The West A. coach started coaching the Indians way back in 1995. At the time of President Bill Clinton and the infamous OJ Simpson trial, there was a football program in Western Pennsylvania that was about to go from a laughingstock to a dynasty in a matter of a couple years.

Before Palko, West Allegheny had won exactly one playoff game in their entire 45 years of football existence. That first and only win didn’t come till 1993. Two years later, Palko took over but only went 9-11 in his first two seasons. The next year, however, he won twelve games and capped off a magical season with West Allegheny’s first-ever WPIAL title in 3A.

Since that first title, Bob Palko has made 19 playoff appearances. He also has eight WPIAL titles, a WPIAL record, and has been to nine total championships. He has over 200 wins in his 22 years and has shown no signs of slowing down.

However, his coaching career did not begin at his high school alma mater. Bob Palko started coaching as a graduate assistant at IUP. After that, he would start his WPIAL career as the offensive coordinator for Jeannette from 1985-1990 before taking an assistant coaching position at Seton La-Salle high school for two years. A couple years later he would wind up at West Allegheny and the rest is cemented in history.

It’s easy to see how impressive Palko has been on a winning front, but how has he been on the developing side of the ball? High school football is different from college in the sense that you really don’t get to pick your own players. You can recruit in college, but in high school, you’re essentially stuck with what you get. That means you have to develop your own talent.

Two of those players developed by Palko are his own sons, Tyler and Luke Palko. Tyler, the most well-known of Palko’s three children, helped lead Western Allegheny to a PIAA title in 2001 after three consecutive WPIAL titles. That was his third year starting for the Indians. He then went on to Pitt, where he excelled. Excelling so much that Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco was forced to transfer because of lack of playing time. Palko started for Pitt from 2004 to 2006. He left Pitt tied for second in school history with Alex Van Pelt in career touchdown passes with 66 total and second in career passing yardage at 8,343 yards behind only the great Dan Marino. He would later go undrafted in the 2007 NFL Draft and spend parts of five seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.

His son Luke Palko was also a standout football player. Luke was a wide receiver and graduated from West Allegheny in 2003. He would later go on to play against former Robert Morris head coach Joe Walton in the Northeastern Conference at St. Francis University. At St. Francis, Luke would catch 225 receptions, which is second in both school and NEC history. He is currently a scout for the Arizona Cardinals where he has been for the past six seasons.

Not to be outdone by her brothers, Palko’s daughter Amy received an athletic scholarship to play volleyball at Duquesne. She was a four-year starter at crosstown RMU rival Duquesne.

When it comes to recruiting and developing, Bob Palko should be a step up from John Banaszak. Bob has had more success developing outside of the amazing job he did with his kids. That’s clear when you look at the drastic change in success from before to after his hiring at West Allegheny. Furthermore, Palko has an amazing reputation around the WPIAL. It is reasonable to expect him to recruit better in one of the best high school football leagues in the country.

But what about developing the quarterback that eluded Banaszak during his entire four-year tenure? Bob did manage to develop his son into an NFL quarterback and one of the best in a power five school’s history, but he was also a quarterback himself. Bob Palko graduated from West Allegheny in 1977. He was a starter at his alma mater at both quarterback and safety. He also participated on special teams.

Palko would then go on to play quarterback at Montana Tech University. He would start all four years and be named an NAIA All-American.

It is evident that Bob Palko understands the position that has long since been a problem for the Colonials. He has had a lot of success developing his own talent and dominating one of the toughest high school football leagues in the country. He is well known around Pittsburgh and WPIALs. Is he interested, though? Would he want to step down from a dynasty that he created?

I don’t fully know the answer to that, but after his last game, he was reportedly seen taking pictures with his staff members at midfield. Maybe that’s a common way to end the season for West Allegheny football, or maybe it was an emotional sendoff for one of the greatest high school football coaches of all time.