Reflections on the passing of former WVU Football Coach Bill Stewart

West Virginia College Football Bill Stewart

Reflections on the passing of former WVU Football Coach Bill Stewart

For as long as I can remember, when I thought of West Virginia and West Virginia football I have always thought of the following things: toughness, passion, and a tight-knit kindred spirit that makes college football Saturdays in Morgantown, West Virginia one of the more truly epic gatherings of community in all of intercollegiate athletics.

On Monday, former WVU Football Coach Bill Stewart passed away of an apparent heart attack at the age of 59.

In an era of exorbitant coaching salaries and egos, Stewart epitomized what it truly meant to be the face of the state of West Virginia as the Mountaineer head football coach.  Stewart was known to always find time for folks in the Morgantown community and was not afraid of being a normal person and going out and about and interacting with the average Mountaineer football supporter.

Stewart was thrust into the unenviable situation of interim head coach leading into the 2008 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma after Rich Rodriguez left for the University of Michigan in December 2007. The role of an interim head coach for a bowl game could be argued as one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports. You have assistant coaches and their families battling the uncertainty of what the next step would be career wise. Also, and oh by the way, Stewart had the task of battling the now Big 12 conference mate, Oklahoma Sooners, in a BCS game.

On the surface, you would think it would have been a no-win situation for Stewart, but the ever optimistic Stewart found ways to galvanize the team, the coaches and the Mountaineer football fan base.  The Mountaineers knocked off Oklahoma and former athletic director Ed Pastilong named Stewart the permanent head coach.

In a situation where it could have been easy for Pastilong to go out and hire someone else, he gave Stewart, a man who had been loyal to West Virginia, a chance to keep building on the foundation of excellence set in place by Don Nehlen and Rich Rodriguez. Stewart went 28-12 as head coach of the Mountaineers and still found a way to be very upbeat and he also, along with his staff, still were able to get high caliber athletes like Noel Devine. He also gave guys a chance when very few other schools would do so.

The best example is Bruce Irvin, a young kid with exceptional athletic ability who came from basically nothing and was homeless for a time before landing at West Virginia. It could have been easy for Stewart to not give Irvin the time of day like the majority of college football did. But he did not and things like that, along with keeping the program in a national position of relevance, would appeal to the Big 12 and the coaching likes of now head coach Dana Holgorsen.

The bottom line is West Virginia is probably not on the Big 12 radar if they had been .500 or worse under Stewart. The fact that Stewart kept the program moving along and did not let it go into the tank, which can happen if schools overreact to fan bases that clamor for change for the sake of making a coaching change.

In closing, at the end of day, college football, the State of West Virginia, and the Mountaineer football program is much stronger for having Bill Stewart’s passion, energy, and his ability to be an even better person to his family, his players and the behind the scenes folks at West Virginia who worked with him. The world of college athletics needs more people like Bill Stewart.

R.I.P. Coach Stew may peace and comfort come to your family and the West Virginia University football and athletic department family in this very difficult time.