Fiu: Bill Stewart kept the ship afloat
Posted May 21, 2012

Bill Stewart turned out to be a terrific gap-filler to help West Virginia get to the Big 12

By Pete Fiutak

While former West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart will be forever known mostly for the way his tenure ended, he should be remembered for being the coach who kept the ship afloat and helped set the tone for a huge move forward to the Big 12.


Stewart died Monday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 59, just shy of a year after the "dig up dirt" dust-up with current head coach Dana Holgorsen –- in which Stewart allegedly asked a reporter to find bad things to report about the new coach. The scandal was bad, leading to his forced resignation in June 2011. The end to his head coaching stint at VMI was worse -– canned after an 8-25 record combined with ugly allegations about a racist remark. However, he turned out to be a terrific coach during his short stint with the Mountaineers and will forever be known for pulling out a win over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

All of a sudden, Rich Rodriguez had gone from being the favorite son to a pariah after leaving West Virginia for Michigan on horrible terms following what almost became a dream season.

The Mountaineers were 10-1 and just needed to beat a bad Pitt team at home to go on to play for the national championship. After the painful 13-9 loss, and the departure of RichRod, no one thought West Virginia had any shot against a loaded Sooner team.

Instead, assistant head coach Stewart was named the interim head man and steadied the ship, getting the team more than ready in a dominant 48-28 win that became the shocker of that bowl season. That wasn't just a tribute to Stewart's coaching ability, but it showed how the players responded to him. After open lobbying from several of the players, West Virginia chose to make Stewart the full time head coach.

While some thought he might not have been the right man, he put together a terrific coaching staff, hit the recruiting trail hard, and did a great job going 9-4 for three straight seasons with a share of the 2010 Big East title. However, the offense started to fall flat and there was some sense that the program might start to slip a little bit. When Holgorsen, the hot offensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, became available, athletic director Oliver Luck had to try to come up with a solution.

Stewart wasn't bad, notching 28 wins in just over three years, and he was likeable enough to not have anyone want to kick him to the curb, so the ill-fated idea of hiring Holgorsen as the offensive coordinator and the head coach-in-waiting was born.
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Stewart and Holgorsen weren't exactly keen on the relationship.

In the end, Holgorsen took over and now has West Virginia on the verge of being a consistent national superpower from the Big 12 after blowing away Clemson in the Orange Bowl, while Stewart was on his way to being a TV analyst with a great future ahead of him.

Just 59 when he passed away, with his personality and coaching ability he had the potential to grow into a terrific TV talking head. But as a coach, he should be remembered as the one who bridged the gap between Rodriguez and Holgorsen and kept the program going and improving.

No, West Virginia isn't in the Big 12 now because of Stewart, but it might not have been as attractive if it crashed under his tenure.