As John Banaszak moves into the head coaching job at Robert Morris in the wake of Joe Walton's retirement, ColonialsCorner caught up with him to talk about the dawn of a new era. This is part one of a three-part series. Part two will run Wednesday and focus on installing a new offense and other changes to the team, while part three will run Thursday and focus on scheduling and raising the profile at RMU.
Not much has changed for John Banaszak lately.
Sure, he has the official title of Robert Morris University head football coach. His office is in a little bit of disarray as the staff shuffles around in the wake of Joe Walton's retirement.
But Banaszak's been so deeply involved in the program at Robert Morris as Walton's right-hand man, that nothing else has truly changed for the 63-year-old former Super Bowl champion.
"Coach Walton has given me an awful lot of latitude in terms of where this program went. I acted as a head coach when he took his extended vacations to Puerto Rico," Banaszak said in an exclusive interview with ColonialsCorner.com. "There's an awful lot of things administratively that I have done in the last six years as a full-time assistant head football coach. There really isn't that much more work for me."
Of course, that doesn't mean things won't change. Banaszak's current focus is on building a strong recruiting class as well as hiring an offensive coordinator to take over Walton's duties and install a new offense.
"There will be some changes and my approach is a little bit different than Coach's," Banaszak said. "That's normal. I have my vision of where this program should go."
In Banaszak's mind, the most important thing driving him right now is improving the consistency of the program so that it is a perennial Northeast Conference contender.
"I think the biggest thing that we can look at is, two years ago when we made this announcement, we talked about sending Coach out with a championship," Banaszak said. "We were awful close. And I've got to find a way that that doesn't happen again. That's my mission right now."
Outside of hiring a new offensive coordinator, Banaszak doesn't anticipate many changes to the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Scott Farison has been with the program 12 years, while offensive line coach Andrew Richardson has been on the staff seven years. Every position coach has been in place for multiple years, and even graduate assistants like Myles Russ and Alex DiMichele are former RMU players.
"Guys have been around here for a long time with Coach Walton, and the stability of the staff will not change," Banaszak said. "At this point, the only vacancy we'll have is Coach Walton's vacancy as a full-time guy and we will bring in an offensive coordinator to handle that position."
Even Banaszak's day-to-day role at practice won't change much. Since arriving at RMU 11 years ago, he's coached the defensive line and special teams. That won't change, although DiMichele's now his assistant with the defensive line and the special teams work will be delegated a bit more.
"I'll always keep my nose in defensive line play. That is just something I enjoy. I will continue to be the special teams coach. I need something to do during the week," Banaszak said with a smile. "But I'll have more help in certain areas of special teams and delegate that to some of the assistant coaches. I know I'll have more administrative work to do during the week."
This isn't Banaszak's first head coaching gig. He was the head coach at Division III Washington & Jefferson, where he led the team to a 38-9 record over four seasons. That was his first stop on what he had originally hoped was his path to taking his dream job of being head coach at Eastern Michigan.
The dream almost became a reality. Eastern Michigan called him a few weeks ago to talk about the position. Banaszak said they could talk after the season ended, and when they did, he said he'd consider it.
"I promised an awful lot of people that I'd be their head coach for the next four years. It was tempting," Banaszak said. "I thought about it, talked with my family about it, and I've made a commitment here."
Banaszak said what convinced him the most was the loyalty Robert Morris has shown him over the last 11 years, as well as the commitment and support from the university as he begins his tenure as head coach. The comfort he had in his lifestyle and his enjoyment of being at the university was too much to walk away from.
"I'm on the back nine of my career, and I've got it pretty good here," Banaszak said. "Five years ago, it might have been a different story. Not now. I've got my dream job. This is it."
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.