A True Mountaineer
Leave No Doubt
2000-2007 Assistant coach
2008-2010 Head Coach
— Plaque dedicated to former WVU coach Bill Stewart on the public concourse in Mountaineer Field at the base of the elevator
They remembered former West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart on Friday by dedicating a plaque on a wall at Milan Puskar Stadium, a nice gesture, but the words on that plaque above cannot sum up the man who lived not long enough and who loved his home state like no one else.
Oliver Luck, the athletic director who forced Stewart out of his job to bring in Dana Holgorsen, said all the right things.
“I envision, because this is a public concourse, that many folks will come and pay their respect to Coach Stew, as he was known by many people. Folks for generations will be able to appreciate the kind of man he was,” Luck said.
“I envision in my mind’s eye grandpas telling their grandchildren about the Oklahoma victory in the Fiesta Bowl and what that meant not just to the football team or the university, but the state as a whole.”
But, in truth, the story of who Bill Stewart was could only be told by those whom he worked with in the football office and who played for him, men like Mike Kerin, then the director of football operations and man who saw that Oklahoma game that saved the program’s pride and respect and won Stewart the job he cherished as no one else saw it, both pre-game and post-game.
“We had gotten to the stadium late and before the game (TV announcer) Holly Rowe wanted to know what our time schedule was. I asked Stew, and he said he didn’t plan to talk to the team long,” Kerin recalled.
And so a time schedule was put together by the network.
Stewart, however, got caught up in his pre-game talk.
“He talked and talked and talked, and we were late getting onto the field,” Kerin said.
Not that that was a bad thing.
That was his “Leave No Doubt.”
Hours later, the victory West Virginia’s, Kerin was at the victory celebration, but he noticed that the school president, the athletic director and a number of other people you would expect to be there, including Stewart, were absent.
“I thought to myself, ‘Something’s going on,’” he said.
At about 4 a.m., Kerin was heading up to his room.
“There’s Stew, alone, standing out on a balcony, a plastic cup in his hand, looking out over Phoenix. It’s a beautiful night, and he was just taking in all that had happened in his life that night. I just stood there and watched him a little bit. He didn’t even know I was there, but it was one of those moments you never forget.”
o o o o o o
Donnie Young spent a lifetime coaching at West Virginia University, most of it under Don Nehlen, having retired just this past year. His one Bill Stewart moment also came from the night he beat Oklahoma.
“We were playing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and no one knew who the next coach would be,” Young recalled. “I was trying to give Stew some advice. I told him he needed to do some PR work to get the job.”
Stewart, who served as interim head coach in the wake of Rich Rodriguez’s abrupt and unexpected departure, would have none of that, even though it was his dream job.
“There’s no way I’ll do that,” he said. “We just have to go out and beat Oklahoma.”
And Stewart got the job … without pushing to get it. He got it his way, by beating Oklahoma.
No wonder at 4 a.m. he was out there taking in the night, not ever wanting to let it go.
o o o o o o
Steve Dunlap coached with Stewart for a number of years, and he has a favorite memory of the man.
“The ‘Leave No Doubt’ speech,” he said.
Someone noted that he wasn’t at WVU at the time, being an assistant at Marshall that season.
“I know, but I’ve seen the speech, and I’ve never saw anything like it,” he said.
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Quincy Wilson is assistant director of football operations now but he was at WVU as a player when Stewart was an assistant coach, etching his name into the books as one of the best running backs in the school history and owner of perhaps the most famous run with a flare pass in school history.
“He was special teams coach and what I will always remember about him was the talks he’d give just before Rod would come in,” Wilson said. “He’d be yelling at the team, firing everyone up … and then he’d end it by saying, ‘I love you guys.’”
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Jeff Braun is a senior guard on this year’s team, a player who has seen a lot in his time at West Virginia. He hesitates not a second when you ask him for his favorite Stewart moment.
“Giving us the Mountaineer Rules of Living,” Braun said. “Every camp. Some were serious, some hilarious.”
“Life’s not fair. Get used to it,” Braun said.
“Flipping burgers isn’t beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a word for it called opportunity.”
o o o o o o
Now, all of it is history, his memory put on a bronze plaque next the only other plaque in the stadium, the one from the dedication of the new stadium.
“We think it’s appropriate next to the only other plaque here in the stadium commemorating the opening day at Mountaineer Field. This stadium we hope will stand for many, many decades to come, and both these plaques will be here until the very last day,” Luck said.
His memory should last even longer.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
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