Mt. Lebanon expected to name Bob Palko as football coach Tuesday |
High School Football

Mt. Lebanon expected to name Bob Palko as football coach Tuesday

Chris Harlan
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
West Alllegheny head coach Bob Palko coaches his final game for the Indians during the WPIAL Class 5A championship game against Penn Hills Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, at Norwin High School.

Bob Palko bid farewell to West Allegheny football last fall after 24 seasons, but the coach with the most WPIAL titles insisted then that he wasn’t ready for retirement.

Three months later, he’s apparently back to work.

According to a source, Palko, 59, was expected to be named Mt. Lebanon’s football coach Tuesday, a career move that takes him to one of the largest schools in the WPIAL, but also to a football program that’s celebrated only one title since 1984.

Surely, the Blue Devils hope their new coach might fix that.

Palko won eight WPIAL titles at West Allegheny, where he was hired in 1995. His teams won WPIAL titles in 1997, 1999-2001, ’09, ’12, ’13 and ’16, along with a state title in 2001 with son Tyler at quarterback.

Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan said a new football coach would be named after school Tuesday but did not identify the candidate. He declined comment until after the announcement.

After retiring from West Allegheny as an educator, Palko announced that the 2018 season would be his last as West Allegheny’s coach. On his unofficial farewell tour, the Indians nearly added a ninth WPIAL title to his total before finishing as runners-up in Class 5A.

His career record is 217-73.

At Mt. Lebanon, Palko replaces Mike Melnyk, who resigned after seven seasons. He becomes Mt. Lebanon’s fifth coach in the past 50 years following Melnyk (2012-18), Chris Haering (1995-2011), Paul Kmec (1988-94) and Art Walker Sr. (1967-87).

The Blue Devils went 44-31 and reached the playoffs six times under Melnyk, but he stepped down in December citing a lack of support from the school’s administration.

Palko already has a connection with Mt. Lebanon’s administration. He and Grogan worked together for three years when Grogan was West Allegheny’s athletic director from 1997-2000.

Mt. Lebanon is the fifth-largest school in the WPIAL behind North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, Butler and Hempfield. PIAA enrollment statistics list 651 boys in grades 9-11 at Class 6A Mt. Lebanon compared to 395 at West Allegheny, which was one of the smallest Class 5A football schools in the state.

But recently, that size advantage hasn’t led to football title at Mt. Lebanon. The team last won a WPIAL title in 2000, which was its first title since a dominant stretch in the early 1980s. Overall, the Blue Devils own seven WPIAL titles from 1966, ’70, ’80, ’81, ’83, ’84 and 2000.

Palko coached his final season at West Allegheny alongside coach-in-waiting Kim Niedbala, who the school board tabbed to replace Palko. However, Niedbala resigned from West A on Sunday, causing that school to also start searching for a new coach.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.