MORGANTOWN - It was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room that nobody wanted to talk about.
West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith dodged questions about the dismissal of coach Bill Stewart after the 2011 season much in the same fashion as he avoided defenders. He simply passed.
"I'm only here to talk about the bowl game. I would be a bad quarterback if I focused on anything else," Smith said after Tuesday's practice, the first time the players were made available following last week's announcement that Stewart would have a coach-in-waiting next season in the form of Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
Holgorsen will be formally introduced at a 2 p.m. press conference today.
Smith did say the events of last week have not be a distraction as the team prepares to play North Carolina State on Dec. 28 in the Champs Sports Bowl.
"We've got senior leadership," he said. "We're not thinking about anything else."
To a man, the players all refused to comment on the situation until after the bowl game. Wide receiver Tavon Austin said that those returning for next season "have to step up to the challenge.
"Coaching change or no coaching change, we still have to play football," he said.
"There have been distractions, but I don't think they were distractions that we couldn't handle," said safety Robert Sands. "We have a bunch of upperclassmen getting ready to graduate that were in a similar situation a few years ago. They have helped us stay focused on the task at hand."
Stewart also declined to discuss the situation, but did say that he was proud of his coaching staff and the professional way they have been handling the transition.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson reportedly will not be retained for the 2011 season.
"It's still football," Stewart said. "Bill Stewart is still who I am. I love this football team, this University and this state. If I let this sidetrack me, I'm not doing my job."
Stewart said he has answered questions regarding the matter as truthfully as he can while out on the recruiting trail. Stewart has a different job within the athletic department awaiting him after the 2011 season.
"I wish I had a crystal ball," he said. "I'll go wherever the good Lord leads me. I've moved my bride so many times (because) coaching is a nomadic businesses."
But Stewart said his priorities have changed a bit over the years, which all came following the birth of his son Blaine, a sophomore at Morgantown High School. He said moving the family for the child's final two years of high school "weighs heavy on my heart."