One of the saddest and most shocking news pieces to hit college football in many years came across the wire today, as West Virginia University announced today that former head coach Bill Stewart died of an apparent heart attack this afternoon during a golf outing. Stewart coached the Mountaineers coach from 2008-2010, accruing a record of 28-12 with three postseason wins, before resigning his post under turmoil last spring. He was 59-years-old.
Earlier, West Virginia President Jim Clements released a statement saying:
“Mountaineer nation is truly saddened today to learn of the untimely passing of Coach Bill Stewart. Our hearts go out to the Stewart family and Bill’s many friends. He was a compassionate, energetic, and kind person. He loved his family dearly and was extremely community-oriented and very giving of his time. He will be greatly missed.”
Reflecting back, Stewart will be remembered for two distinct things during his time at the school. One, was the highest of highs, and the other, a professional low.
First the high, which came in Stewart’s first game as head coach of the Mountaineers in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. Stewart had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Rich Rodriguez, who had recently departed Morgantown for the head coaching job at Michigan, leaving the 11-2 Mountaineers in a tight spot headed into the postseason. Little did anyone know that Stewart would not only step in and adequately replace Rodriguez, but he’d also blow the doors off the building. West Virginia won that night by a final score of 48-28, and as Pat White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine ran around, over and through Oklahoma’s defense, in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score might indicate. Because of the big win, West Virginia named Stewart Rodriguez’s permanent successor just days later.
Unfortunately, the good times wouldn’t last, and that night in Arizona proved to be the high point of Stewart’s time at the school. He won nine games in each of the three years he coached at the school, but given what he inherited, and given the standard Rodriguez set before him, it simply wasn’t enough. Despite three bowl wins, Stewart’s time was better known for stunning losses than signature wins. A24-3 loss to East Carolina in the second game of his first year in Morgantown told fans everything they needed to know about Stewart: He was a nice guy, but not head football coach material. Things didn’t change over the next two seasons.
And it was at that point, where Stewart’s other “big” moment came in, with his unceremonious departure from the school last year. It started when Athletic Director Oliver Luck made the unusual move to hire Stewart’s replacement, Dana Holgorsen and transition in him as a coach-in-waiting, without Stewart’s approval, while also keeping Stewart on the staff. Luck’s comments at the time of Holgorsen’s hiring were cryptic and stunning, when he told reporters that day- in front of Stewart- that the coach simply wasn’t doing a good enough job.
The direct quote was as follows:
Let me briefly touch on the future. I want the Mountaineer program, and expect us, to compete at the highest levels. Certainly the goal of our program is to win a national championship. In order to do that, we need to win BIG EAST Championships. As I look out on the horizon, what I see is a rapidly improving BIG EAST, by and large because of the addition of Texas Christian University in 2012.
He then followed up by adding:
Coach Stewart and I met along with Coach Stewart’s advisor and our University General Council on November 14th, the Sunday after the Cincinnati game, and at that point Coach Stewart was informed that I was not satisfied with the direction of the program and that changes would be made.
And from there, that’s where things really got interesting, and a nasty brouhaha broke out in Morgantown. Few know the exact details, but after Holgorsen had an incident at a casino late one night, rumors began to surface that Stewart was offering incriminating information on Holgorsen to the local media, to try and get Holgorsen fired. Stewart eventually resigned his post in early June of last year amidst the turmoil.
Regardless of how it started, or how it ended at West Virginia though, this is incredibly shocking and saddening news. Stewart leaves behind a wife Karen, and a son Blaine.
Crystal Ball Run will continue to provide more details as they emerge.