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Former Mountaineer football coach was special

May 23, 2012

MORGANTOWN - It is downright difficult trying to write about Bill Stewart.

He not only was one of the greatest football coaches in West Virginia University history, but a great human being. It's still shocking to me that he died of a massive heart attack on a golf course Monday.

Stewart was a loving husband, father and people's person. He loved West Virginia and his players, and the players loved him. He also loved football and was planning to start coaching again.

Stewart, a native of New Martinsville and a graduate of Fairmont State with a master's from WVU, would have only turned 60 years old in June. He had class as well as knowledge.

His three years as WVU's head coach produced a 28-12 overall record, including the most memorable 48-28 victory over No. 3-ranked Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

That might well have been the greatest bowl win in WVU football history. Each of Stewart's three teams finished with a 9-4 mark. In the process, he became the school's first coach to win as many as nine games in his initial season.

There is so much that one could say about this great gentleman that he or she wouldn't know where to start. The list of positives would probably fill a book - not just a column.

His 28-12 record (.700 percentage) ranks Stewart No. 5 among the school's 33 head coaches that the university has had in football. He had many of the qualities possessed by Hall of Famer Don Nehlen, under whom Stewart served the first of his eight years as an assistant coach here.

The last time I talked to "Stew" was a week ago. He dropped in on Shoney's Tuesday morning breakfast club of men. He was as jovial and as friendly as ever.

He dearly loved his wife, Karen, and their son Blaine, who will be a senior QB at Morgantown High School next fall.

Karen was a student at Fairmont State when Bill was a graduate assistant coach. He told me once that he proposed marriage to Karen, also a New Martinsville native, under a goal post at the Falcons' football stadium on a Saturday night.

What a wonderful couple!

Make no mistake, Bill Stewart knew football. He had many, many years of experience. He was known and high respected and was one of the "good guys" in intercollegiate coaching circles.

He served as head coach at VMI in 1994-95-96 and as an assistant coach at numerous other colleges.

Those included North Carolina (two separate stints), Salem, Marshall, William and Mary, Arizona State, Navy, Air Force and West Virginia.

Nehlen brought Stewart to Morgantown in 2000 from the Canadian Football League, where he was an assistant coach with Montreal and Winnipeg.

He was retained for seven more years here by Rich Rodriguez before he became head coach in 2008.

"Professionally, I've been so blessed" said Stewart. He mentioned Don Nehlen and Dick Crum of North Carolina as the best organizers he worked under.

"I didn't come from much, but we had a lot of love," he was quoted about his upbringing. "We had discipline in our home, but we had much love."

Stewart's goal at WVU was to make his players annually the premier team in the Big East. He wanted his team to win "the right way."

"I am very honored, humbled and proud," he said after appointment as head coach Jan. 3, 2008. He remained loyal and supportive after being replaced as head coach.

Bill Stewart was certainly a very special gentleman. My sincere sympathy goes out to his loved ones.



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