The Times West Virginian

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Bob Herzel

January 18, 2010

Aiming high

Stewart believes WVU can contend for national title

MORGANTOWN — At the time Bill Stewart said it, the comment seemed out of character, for Bill Stewart isn’t one for making outrageous statements.

But the words came out of his mouth after the Gator Bowl had been played, a comment that seemed to indicate he believed his West Virginia football program was on the verge of competing for a national championship over the next two years.

Here was a man who took over a program that stood at the verge of such a championship three seasons back, that had won 11 games three straight years and was beating Pitt away from playing for the national title.

When that didn’t occur and when the coach, Rich Rodriguez, said “Sayonara” and jumped to Michigan, when Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt and Darius Reynaud followed to the pros, taking Johnny Dingle with them, when Patrick White graduated, and when 11-win seasons became 9-win seasons with some troubling losses to teams like East Carolina and Colorado, it appeared as if national championships were little more than pipe dreams.

But Bill Stewart was not kidding, either you or himself, when he spoke of reaching such lofty heights in the next couple of seasons.

He believes.

“Here’s my statement,” he said on Friday during an hour-long interview in the cafeteria at the Puskar Center over a couple of cups of nothing stronger than coffee. “If I’m the coach and I don’t believe we can contend for a national championship, the staff can’t believe it and, more important, the team won’t believe it.

“But you have to believe it. Is that a bold thing I’m saying? All I’m saying is we have a chance if we stay healthy — it depends on the physical health — to make a run over the next couple of years.”

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Bob Herzel
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