However the Xs and Os for the rest of his life may be drawn, the football part for Joe Walton certainly has been lively. As a Redskins' aide two years ago, he was all but tarred and feathered for the very philosophy that brought victory in the Super Bowl this season. Assuming one night that he might have to move cross-country to finally become a head coach in the NFL, Walton the next morning found that possible by walking a few steps down the hall from his office.
"One thing George Allen always preached," the new New York Jets' coach said yesterday, "if you stay in this business long enough, nothing will surprise you."
A quiet smile surely beamed into Walton's phone, for that lesson had been hammered home by none other than Allen the evening of Jan. 18, 1978. Whether it was from the radio or television, Walton is unsure; the message and the sudden jolt of fear it generated are vivid.
Allen was out as the Redskins' coach.
Walton was out of a job.
"Later, George wanted me to go along with him to the Rams," said Walton, who had worked four years here for Allen. "He said to let him know before I did anything."
Short of leading his own NFL team, being a Redskins' assistant was fine with Walton. His strongest roots were here. He had been a tight end four years with the Redskins in the late 1950s and his father, Frank, a Redskins' guard a generation earlier, still lives in Beltsville.
But Walton considered a more stable line of work. He had business interests in New York from the days he played for the Giants, somehow managing to push a body more suited to pushing pencils into "the best third-down receiver, bar none" Y.A. Tittle said he ever saw.
Football was in his blood.
It was not his nature to go begging.
"Jack (Pardee) and I talked a time or two in a general way," Walton said of the man who succeeded Allen. "One night my wife suddenly said to me, 'Did you ask him for the job.'
"I said I hadn't.
"She said I'd better, because he just might think I didn't care. So I called him that night, at the hotel where he was staying, and said I just wanted him to know I wanted it."
Walton became offensive coordinator the next day.
Like Pardee, Walton was glorified one year, 1979, and vilified the next. That slide from missing the playoffs by a missed assignment late in one of the most thrilling games the Redskins ever played, the 35-34 loss to the Cowboys, was more complex than John Riggins taking a sabbatical.
Still, with the playoff deeds of Riggins still fresh, the wonder is not how Pardee and Walton failed in 1980 but how they managed to win six games. With ordinary players, they were fired for not being extraordinary.
"It'd be easy saying that what I was trying to do when I left, run Riggins and a short-passing game, is what they used to win the Super Bowl," Walton said. "But Joe Gibbs has done a great job. It happens. There was nothing I could do. And it made me nothing less as a coach, or a person."
The Jets quickly grabbed him, and Walton had the same calming, structured, pivotal influence on another frequently skittish quarterback, Richard Todd, that he'd had with Joe Theismann. As with the Redskins, Walton has gotten as much out of the Jets' offense in two seasons as was possible.
Now he has his just reward.
And more pressure than most rookie coaches face.
Why Walt Michaels was forced to leave a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl still has not been largely explained; why Walton was chosen his successor makes wonderful sense.
He has learned from a host of gifted men. And to be his own man.
"From playing with Tittle," he began, "and under Allie Sherman, who was a forerunner of a lot of offensive thinking. From coaching (Fran) Tarkenton, a sprint-out quarterback and also quite a bright guy, to drop-back quarterbacks like Kilmer and Jurgensen.
"I learned organization from Allen, and a deep appreciation of defense. It helped working against a nickel defense so much. Before you get to be a head coach, I think, you've got to be with a couple of teams."
At 47, with 25 years in nearly every phase of football, Walton interviewed for three jobs after this season: the Chiefs, Falcons and Rams. He had talked with the Rams before the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and half-expected one of their officials would be on the line when the phone rang last Tuesday.
It was Jim Kensil, Jets' president.
"Everybody talks about the pressure of taking over such a great team," Walton said, "but (Joe) Gardi will be coaching the defense and I'll continue with the offense. So not that much will change."
Walton knows the risks in this Jet stream; he's also preached to his children, "there aren't any guarantees in life," and thought he ought to back that up.
Also, given the chance to lead a very good team or a very bad one, he will leap for the former. Most men might not, the demands for instant success being so much greater. Walton already knows about survival on the other side of the NFL tracks.