Guest Contributor : Larry Sayre
Stewart was proud to be a West Virginian. He openly declared it with great pride among all the stereotypes. All were treated equally by Stewart. Whether he was coaching his star QB Pat White, cheering on his Mountaineers at a local bar among fellow fans, or taking to a reporter. Stewart treated all equally with caring & respect. He had a personality that would take over a room.
One of the most fondest memories of Bill Stewart and how he endured himself to Mountaineer fans was the speech LEAVE NO DOUBT. He gave this speech prior to the Fiesta Bowl .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW63PcDPPZk&feature=share
WVU & its fans were at an all-time low. They lost to their hated rivals Pitt at home as 29 point favorites with a National Championship Game invite if they win. Then one of their native sons in Rodriquez takes off like a thief in the night to Michigan. No one was excited about the Fiesta Bowl. Fans only could think of the opportunity that was blown.
Stewart found a way to galvanize the Mountaineers & shock the College Football World with a stunning blowout upset of the highly ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Some were saying Oklahoma was the best team in the country by the end of the season. Every West Virginian knows what the football teams means to the state. Stewart rallied an entire football team in one of WVU's darkest hours. He was the right man for the right time. He made them believe, & brought pride back to Mountaineer Nation, & the entire state that night.
Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons. Three straight 9-4 seasons. Including his win as interim coach in the Fiesta Bowl…… He was 2-2 in bowl games. 1-0 in BCS games. Many would say that WVU had lost its footing under Stewart. That the program was beginning to slide. That is hard to argue. This can be said though. Stewart united the program & state with the Fiesta bowl win. He was a needed glue that held the program together when one of their native sons left them twisting in the wind. WVU needed someone who cared & wanted to be there. The wrong hire could have set the program back for many years. Stewart kept the program afloat while doing it with pride & honor.
A great quote by Stewart that tells you a lot about the pride of being a Mountaineer.
“ To be part of this is something no one can know about unless you live & experience it, it’s who we are, it’s what we are. These people came to these hills for a better life. We are one big clan in this state, whether you are a miner, a construction worker, a banker, everyone cares about everyone. We don’t have a pro team. We tell all our players, "don’t ever forget the pride of playing before the hardest working, God fearing, most wonderful people you will ever meet in your life. That’s what we are, that’s who we are.”
A nice story that comes to mind when thinking of Stewart When Stewart was an assistant coaching at Arizona State in 1988. His beloved Mountaineers were in the National Championship game that same year versus Notre Dame. Stewart had to go. He wanted to see history: his Mountaineers winning their first Football National Championship. He proceeded to tell the story of how he went to the game alone. Sat high up in the bleachers with his Cowboy hat on. No one knew he was there. Then how horrified he was when All–American QB Major Harris separated his shoulder on the third play of the game. He was in tears in the stands as he watched such a precious opportunity fall by the wayside. The Mountaineers meant that much to him. He knew what they meant to the entire state.
Stewart was deeply religious. A caring, kind, & compassionate man. He was deeply dedicated to his family. Even old fashioned in a way. He still referred to his wife as his bride. Mike Tomlin got his first coaching job under Stewart at VMI. Tomlin released this statement of his close friend. “ We are saddened by the passing of coach Stew. He was a great coach ,& a tremendous person. We not only lost a good football person, we lost an even better family man.”
Coach Tomlin said it best with those words. In closing I will use the words of Dave Wannstedt former Pitt Coach:"The state of West Virginia lost a great man. We really did.