Bill Stewart: WVU great remembered
His coaching resume, like so many of his peers, was all over the map.
But once Bill Stewart landed on his feet in Morgantown, the New Martinsville native had truly come full circle.
Hired as an assistant to Don Nehlen in 2000, life was finally, oh so good for Stewart who had no intentions of ever coaching anywhere else.
And so it was for Coach Stew who eventually ascended to the mountain top in January, 2008 after guiding WVU to a rousing Fiesta Bowl bashing of Oklahoma.
Circumstances were uncertain following Rich Rodriguez’ sudden divorce from the program. On the verge of playing for a national championship, Rodriguez’ 2007 Mountaineers had been sideswiped by bitter rival Pitt.
The ensuing fallout escalated as Rodriguez announced he was leaving for Michigan. Then-WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong turned to his long-time friend Stewart who was asked to serve as interim coach for the upcoming Fiesta Bowl.
After Pat White engineered WVU’s unexpected beat down of the Sooners, he enthusiastically endorsed Stewart to succeed Rodriguez and Pastilong concurred.
A successful three-year run saw Stewart compile a 28-12 mark before new AD Oliver Luck’s decision to bring in young gun Dana Holgorsen was met with mixed results.
Stewart eventually resigned last summer and more or less opted to remain out of the public eye. Not that he ever was capable of graduating to recluse status.
Thus, Monday’s stunning news of Stewart’s sudden death, left those who knew him well reeling.
“Bill Stewart was the finest gentleman to ever coach at the Division I level,” said Magnolia High coaching legend Dave Cisar. “I’ll always be honored to have called Bill a personal friend. He was a very special guy – both on the field and off it.”
Like many of Stewart’s valley supporters, Cisar wasn’t particularly pleased in the manner his tenure ended in Morgantown. “I’ve always said Bill didn’t deserve what happened to him at WVU. The entire situation wasn’t handled well and that’s a shame.”
Nevertheless, Stewart walked away regarded as a man whose deep devotion and loyalty were spiritually uplifting.
Offered Wheeling Central product and ex-Mountaineer Tom Contraguerro, among those shaken by Monday’s news.
“I remember my first season at WVU. I was a nervous freshman and (then-assistant) Coach Stewart went out of his way to make me feel comfortable. Coach always had a smile and a big hug for you. I’ve never been around a more classy person than Coach Stewart.”
His lifelong ties to the valley resulted in frequent area appearances.
“What a great friend Bill Stewart was to us in B-MAC,” said St. Clairsville’s John S. Marshall of the eastern Ohio-based Belmont/Mountaineer Athletic Club. “Bill was one of the most gracious, compassionate men you could ever meet.”
Echoed BMAC official John Budinscak: “Bill Stewart wasn’t just a great coach. He was a tremendous person as well. What mother wouldn’t want a man like Coach Stewart in her living room attempting to recruit her son? It’s hard to accept he left us so soon.”
Times-Leader sports writer Kim North was impacted by Stewart’s friendship during his collegiate tenure.
“My dealings with Coach Stewart came during my freshman year at Salem College,” North disclosed. “Coach Stewart was my very first professor in college and he was a happy-go-lucky guy that also had a stern side to him.
“I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet Coach Stewart during my early years in life. From what I remember back then, Coach Stewart was always a go-getter. He had so much energy during our days at Salem.”
Stewart’s relationship with the media was considered unusually cordial – especially by today’s standards.
The occasions we crossed paths on game day or following a practice session, Stewart never failed to inquire about valley teams and athletes. He made it a point to put a personal spin on virtually every conversation.
His zest for life and unwavering commitment to family made lasting impressions on those he touched and the hundreds who will pay their final respects this week.
Gibson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org