Mt. Lebanon’s Bob Palko named Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year

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Sunday, February 6, 2022 | 5:48 PM


Mt. Lebanon football coach Bob Palko, who led the Blue Devils to their first state championship, was named the 2021 Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year on Sunday.

The winner was announced on national television during the NFL Pro Bowl in Las Vegas. Nominees watched the all-star game from a suite at Allegiant Stadium, but Palko said he didn’t know he’d won until an NFL representative told him he’d be interviewed on the field during the ABC/ESPN telecast.

“You never anticipate winning something like that,” Palko said. “I didn’t anyway. … I’m humbled and honored and every other word that you could say.”

The winner receives $15,000 from the NFL Foundation and an invitation to attend the Super Bowl, so Palko and wife Sally will be in Los Angeles next Sunday.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan said. “It’s so well deserved. He’s done such a tremendous job. … He works his tail off and does so much for kids. He makes it about them and everybody else instead of himself. For him to win this, it’s pretty cool.”

The award gave Mt. Lebanon yet another reason to celebrate a historic football season. The Blue Devils went 15-0 last fall, winning WPIAL and PIAA Class 6A titles along the way. The WPIAL title was Palko’s ninth, tying him for the most in league history.

The PIAA championship was the first in Mt. Lebanon football history, and the Blue Devils earned it by defeating three-time defending state champion St. Joseph’s Prep, 35-17, in Hershey on Dec. 11.

“This is a team award really,” Palko said. “The only reason I’m here is the success of the team and the success of the staff. And the way this year was, it’s a Mt. Lebanon community award and a whole-school award. … Whoever wins this award doesn’t get there all by themselves. It’s not like you’re winning an individual Olympic gold medal.”

The award recognizes “character and integrity, leadership and dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field success,” according to the NFL. The award is named after Shula, the late Hall of Fame coach of the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, who ranks as the winningest coach in NFL history.

Each of the NFL’s 32 teams nominated one high school coach for the award, which started in 2010.

Palko was named the Steelers’ nominee in December. He is the second Pennsylvania coach to win the national award, joining former St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante, who won in 2018 as a Philadelphia Eagles nominee.

This was Palko’s third season at Mt. Lebanon after 24 years at West Allegheny, where he won a state title in 2001. His career record is 243-81.

ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters interviewed Palko during the fourth quarter of the Pro Bowl and asked what made him most proud during his 27 years as a head coach.

“I think just meeting and being able to learn from the young kids,” Palko told the TV audience. “You’ve got to learn to adapt and adjust through life and these kids have really helped me do that.”

The Palkos flew to Las Vegas on Thursday, attended the East-West Shrine Bowl that night and Pro Bowl practice on Friday. While in Las Vegas, Palko also visited with Dave Brytus, an all-state player at West Allegheny two decades ago who later punted at Purdue and Pitt.

Next week’s trip to the Super Bowl will be Palko’s first.

“I’ve never had the opportunity or the money,” Palko said. “Now it’s paid for, so, yes, I’m going.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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