MORGANTOWN — The more I see of Bill Stewart, the more impressed I become about the new head coach of West Virginia University’s football fortunes.
In leading the underdog Mountaineers to a totally unexpected 48-28 upset of No. 3 Oklahoma at Glendale, Ariz., Stewart and his assistants provided WVU with arguably the greatest victory of its 114-year football history.
Mountaineer fans everywhere undoubtedly are still glowing over that tremendous triumph, and well they should be. It had to ease the pain created by the abrupt and angry departure or Rich Rodriguez to take over the program at Michigan.
But that signature success engineered by Bill Stewart isn’t the only positive, as great as it was, to earn the opportunity to be named Rodriguez’s successor. What has happened in the short time since simply has solidified his status.
His “handshake” acceptance of the reins not only earned him an annual base salary of $800,000 but also more money than university administrators had ever authorized for a nine-member staff of football assistants.
So Stewart went about the business of putting together probably the best group of assistant coaches West Virginia has ever had. It not only is the most expensive staff but the most experienced.
That’s why Stewart was able to lure Doc Holliday from the University of Florida, David Johnson from Georgia, Steve Dunlap from Marshall, and David Lockwood from Kentucky. All are former Mountaineer players who were joined by other coaches with considerable experience.
Stewart will tell you that just getting Holliday back here, where he had coached for several years under Hall of Famer Don Nehlen, gave recruiting for 2008 an immediate shot in the arm.
WVU couldn’t have lured Josh Jenkins, the All-America offensive lineman from Parkersburg, without Doc’s assistance, according to the head man. And did you note that five recruits from Florida topped the class of 23 signees?
Holliday will be remembered as the man who founded and nurtured the Florida recruiting pipeline for West Virginia many years ago.
Bill Stewart, who’s 55, has a wealth of coaching experience himself, including eight years as a Mountaineer assistant. And he’s as fine a gentleman as you’ll find.
When he was named interim head coach on Dec. 16, some of the current players commented that “at least he won’t yell at us.”
Then after the bowl victory, quarterback Patrick White announced publicly that the players were supporting him for the top job.
While kind and considerate, however, Stewart proved last week that he will rule the roost as a no-nonsense leader. That was the strong statement he issued in dismissing three players from the squad.
That came just two days after the trio was arrested on felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. They are to remain on scholarship the rest of this school year, pending legal action.
Apparently, Stewart intends to take swifter and tougher action than some of his predecessors did. No more “we’ll take care of it within the program.”
It certainly seems like a refreshing approach to handling disciplinary problems.