WVU’s Top 12 Headlines Of 2012: #4-6

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#5 Bill Stewart Suddenly Passes Away

CREDIT: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire; image taken from: http://espn.go.com/blog/bigeast/post/_/id/32992/stewarts-legacy-more-than-wins-and-losses

I still can remember the aftermath of the game that shall not be mentioned in 2007. Our national title hopes had vanished. Our coach, a hometown boy, and alumni, up and left us for more money. Our program was in shambles. And to top it all off, we had to travel to Arizona to play one of the most storied programs in college football in less than a month. Associate Head Coach Bill Stewart was given the task of leading the Mountaineers into battle in the Fiesta Bowl while the administration figured out what to do. Rumors swirled of coaching candidates (it sounds like Skip Holtz very well could have gotten the job, thankfully that didn’t work out) while the so-called “experts” from across the country gave WVU absolutely no chance to win (ESPN resident idiot Lee Corso’s prediction sticks in my mid the most). Ol’ Billy Stewart wasn’t rattled though. He got the boys ready to play.

We all know what transpired from there. WVU went on to shock the nation in what might be the greatest moment in the history of WVU athletics given the circumstances. WVU stomped Oklahoma 48 – 28. Bill Stewart was named permenant head coach that night.  I have to say, in the euphoria of the victory and what we had just went through, I was all for Bill Stewart being named the head coach.

It seemed like fate. Stewart was an honest, loyal, likable, down to Earth guy who absolutely loved West “by God” Virginia and West Virginia University. This was his dream job, and we knew he would never, ever leave us. He seemed to be the exact opposite of Rich Rodriguez, and that is what we wanted.  He surrounded himself with what seemed to be a solid coaching staff.  However, the offensive coaching staff, and his loyalty to them, would prove to be his downfall in the long run.

Unfortunately, that night was the high point of Coach Stew’s tenure as head coach. Three disappointing 9 – 4 seasons followed (most programs would kill for three consecutive 9-4 seasons though, to be fair). Our offense never seemed to do much under Stewart, and that can be largely attributed to his choice of offensive coordinator, Jeff Mullen. Mullen was an experiment that should have been ended after the first year, but Stew stuck with his guy, and that led to the coaching change after the 2010 season. It’s really a shame, because in 2010 we wasted one of the best defenses I’ve ever seen. If we had a decent offense that year, Stew had a chance to win a national championship at WVU.

At the end of the 2010 campaign, Oliver Luck decided the lackluster offense was killing the program, so it was time to make a change and install Dana Holgorsen as head coach in waiting. We all know how that ended- very ugly. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened, but one thing is clear- Stewart or someone closely associated with him was trying to undermine Holgorsen. As rumors spread, it became clear that something had to be done, and Oliver Luck put an end to Bill Stewart’s coaching career on June 10, 2011. The end of Stewart coaching career certainly tarnished his legacy a bit, but I look at it now as someone who just wanted to keep his dream job so badly that he disregarded his better judgement. It’s really a shame that it had to end that way.

On May 21, 2012, William L. Stewart died suddenly of a heart attack while playing golf with Ed Pastilong at Stonewall Resort in WV. We lost a good guy that day. Bill Stewart was a hard working guy, an honest man, a good father and husband, and a good football coach. He loved WVU and the state of West Virginia will all of his being.

I’ll always remember Coach Stew as the man who “matched the mountains”, “jutted his jaw and bowed his back”, and got the job done.  He loved the state of West Virginia, and he loved West Virginia University.  He was an all around good guy.  And that is how we all should remember him.

The lasting thought in my head of Coach Stew is his pregame speech at the Fiesta Bowl. It is, by far, the best pre-game speech I have ever heard.

"You out block ’em, you out tackle ’em, you out hit ’em and hustle ’em Leave no doubt tonight, leave no doubt tonight! No doubt! They shouldn’t have played the old gold and blue! Not this night!"

You can view it here, it still gives me chills to watch it.

Despite the turmoil at the end of his coaching career, Bill Stewart left no doubt- he was a great man and a great Mountaineer.