Except for the Jets’ stunning 1968 season, which was capped by their upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III behind their star quarterback, Joe Namath — who like Walton was a native of Beaver Falls, Pa. — the Jets had never reached a league championship game before Walton took over.
“Joe fielded some of the franchise’s most productive offenses,” the Jets said in a statement. “He was a good man who cared for his players and loved the game of football.”
However, in his seven seasons as their head coach, Walton, like Michaels before him, seldom pulled the Jets out of mediocrity.
He took them to the playoffs in 1985, but they lost to the New England Patriots in an American Football Conference wild-card game. They got off to a 10-1 start in 1986, but incurred a string of injuries to linebackers and interior linemen and lost their last five games.
The Jets went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game. But they were beaten by the Cleveland Browns, 23-20, in double overtime in a divisional title game after leading by 10 points late in the fourth quarter. A penalty for roughing the passer called on Mark Gastineau over a late hit on the Browns’ quarterback Bernie Kosar, leading to a touchdown drive, proved a crushing blow.
The Jets were plagued by divisiveness during an N.F.L. players’ strike in 1987, when the defensive linemen Gastineau, Joe Klecko and Marty Lyons and the center Joe Fields, their captain, took the field alongside the replacement players who filled out rosters for two games before the walkout ended. They finished 6-9 in a season cut short by one game.
Walton acknowledged his role in the team’s troubles that year. “I’ve admitted I probably didn’t handle it very well,” he was quoted as saying by Gerald Eskenazi of The New York Times in “Gang Green” (1998), an account of the Jets’ misadventures over the years. “The strike probably hurt our team. Some of the coaches just let the new guys who came in do it by themselves, didn’t even coach them. My mistake was trying to coach the kids who came in, and some of the veterans resented that.”