2012 Football Coach of the Year: Bob Palko
The West Allegheny football team did not have a player with big statistics and didn't have anyone being recruited by Division I colleges.
West Allegheny coaches often referred to this starless team as a squad with a bunch of no names.
But by the end of the WPIAL season, West Allegheny's coach had his name on an elite list of coaches.
Bob Palko meshed all the unheralded players together into a championship team. You could say Palko has a sixth sense for this championship stuff. West Allegheny won the WPIAL Class AAA championship and Palko became only the sixth coach in the history of the WPIAL to win six titles.
For his achievements, Palko is the Post-Gazette Coach of the Year. The award takes into consideration all coaches in the WPIAL and City League.
The only other WPIAL coaches to have six titles are New Castle's Phil Bridenbaugh, George Novak (Woodland Hills and Steel Valley), Art Walker (Mt. Lebanon and Shady Side Academy), Clairton's Tom Nola and Braddock's Chuck Klausing.
Although Palko has won six championships, many feel this might have been his best coaching job.
"It was a like a breath of fresh air with these guys this year," Palko said. "You couldn't wait to get to practice. You really didn't want the season to end.
"I think what happened was, as we developed through the year, the kids didn't really care who got credit or whatever. It was refreshing. It didn't matter who carried the ball and who didn't. They didn't care who got the tackle, as long as five, six or seven guys were around the ball. All they cared about was winning. It was pretty cool to watch and see how it all went down."
But Palko doesn't think he did anything special. He is rubber man. He deflects compliments to his assistant coaches. Palko does not call plays for the offense and does not run the defense or make defensive calls. Dan Marshall is the offensive coordinator and Bryan Cornell the defensive coordinator.
Many high school coaches either call the plays on offense or run the defense.
"It used to be that I would either take the offense or defense, but for a boatload of years, I haven't taken either," Palko said. "I just thought that was the way to do things as a head coach. Don't get me wrong. I miss not calling plays or defenses, but I don't think you can see the whole picture on the field. I think there are too many other things to take care of.
"When you have quality coaches around you like I do here, there is nothing wrong with letting them handle things. This is not about me. Individual awards like this are hard for me because I know how much we all do here as a staff. To me, it's a program we have here. It's not one thing or two things. We have a good athletic department, good booster clubs and an administration that supports you. Those are things you have to have to be successful."
And Palko has been extremely successful in his time at West Allegheny. He is a former West Allegheny quarterback, but when he became head coach at his alma mater in 1995, the Indians had been to the WPIAL playoffs only once in school history. During Palko's 18 seasons, West Allegheny has made the playoffs 15 times and his record is 155-60. West Allegheny missed the playoffs in Palko's first two seasons.
This year's team was terrific defensively. From the sixth game through the WPIAL championship in Week 13, West Allegheny allowed only 34 points and beat West Mifflin, 34-8, in the title game. West Allegheny's season ended with a 27-13 loss to Erie Cathedral Prep, which went on to win the PIAA title.
Palko's first WPIAL title came in 1997, and the Indians won three WPIAL championships in a row from 1999-2001, and one PIAA championship. Palko's son, Tyler, was the star quarterback-defensive back of the teams that won three in a row and his youngest son, Luke, also was a member of those teams.
"We were able to change the culture here," Palko said. "But the guy who taught all of us how to do it was [former defensive coordinator] Guy Rippole. Without 'Rip' coming into our lives, West Allegheny football would not be what it is today."
Besides coaching at West Allegheny, Palko also teaches physical education classes and is assistant athletic director at West Allegheny. Besides Tyler and Luke, Bob and his wife, Sally, have a daughter, Amy, who was a former volleyball player at Duquesne University.
Palko, 52, had thought a few times about possibly moving on to college coaching, but is extremely content at West Allegheny.
"I really enjoy being with these coaches here. They're like the brothers I never had," Palko said. "Maybe the right opportunity hasn't come along, or maybe I'm just not good enough."
At West Allegheny, he's good enough to be among the elite of WPIAL coaches.
PG Coaches of the Year
Year Coach School
2003 Chuck Wagner Springdale
2004 Art Walker Central Catholic
2005 Greg Botta Franklin Regional
2006 Jim Render Upper St. Clair
2007 Bill Cherpak Thomas Jefferson
2008 Jeff Metheny Bethel Park
2009 George Novak Woodland Hills
2010 Mark Lyons Central Valley
2011 Tom Nola Clairton
2012 Bob Palko West Allegheny
First Published December 21, 2012 12:00 am