The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 22, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Stewart staying focused

MORGANTOWN — Bill Stewart and a 500-pound gorilla held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, the first press conference Stewart has held since his world came crashing down around him.

While Stewart maintained that calling the unseen presence of Dana Holgorsen a “500-pound gorilla” was something of an exaggeration, there could be little doubt that his presence filled the room, maybe even more on Tuesday than it will today when Holgorsen, Stewart and athletic director Oliver Luck hold a 2 p.m. press conference together in the same room.

Holgorsen’s hiring from Oklahoma State and the soap opera way it came about and was handled has turned Stewart effectively into an interim coach in 2011 for the second time in his career, just as he was when he replaced Rich Rodriguez in 2007.

Only this time, whether he wins one game or goes undefeated, he will not be the head coach in the following year.

Which puts him in a rather strange position, being a head coach who doesn’t figure to have any say over his offense as the boy genius comes to town, and who has no future with the program, either, although there are those of us who would love to see how Luck handles it if the Mountaineers were to win the national championship.

The present future, of course, is a bowl game against North Carolina State, something that ranks somewhere in importance between none at all and very little. Far more important — and interesting — is Stewart’s future, for when he took over from Rodriguez he noted that he expected this to be his final stop on the coaching carousel.

He could not then imagine going 9-4, 9-4 and maybe 10-3 and looking at losing his job.

At any other time in WVU history he would have been considered a hero.

Now, though, he is standing face-to-face with his future, even if it is a year away.

“I wish I had a crystal ball. I really do,” he said. “After the 2011 season, wherever the good Lord takes me is where I’ll be. I’ve moved my bride many times before. Coaching is a nomad business. I’ve been around. Every job I’ve ever taken I have viewed as an advancement and good for me.

“When my son Blaine came around, I had to change priorities. My son is the most important thing in my life right now, and then comes Mountaineer football. After I know how the 2011 season turns out, I’ll decide what to do. (Blaine’s well-being) weighs heavy on my heart. I would not want to be moving my junior or senior year (of high school).”

There have been, of course, rumors that Stewart will not want to operate in that situation, that it would be a blow to his pride and be an impossible situation in which to coach. The rumors indicated he might step down following the bowl game.

“I haven’t heard that,” he said. “I will be the football coach in 2011. Those are my marching orders, and I’m in on that and ready to go. After this bowl, I will then begin preparing for 2011. We have to finish recruiting very hard, and we have to get our offseason program in gear. I’m excited about that — our offseason is going to be great.”

The situation, however, creates so many distractions and questions, be it for this bowl game or the next season.

“It’s football. I’m still who I am. I’m a football coach, and I love this football team, this university and this state. I’m trying to keep everybody focused on this football game, and everything else can be talked about on Jan. 1. That, to me, is the way you do it,” he said.

“If I become distracted, then I’m not doing my job as a football coach. I’m doing that to the best of my ability, and I think that’s all anyone can ask me to do,” he continued.

“We’re focused and close to being ready. We have gotten a lot of work done here. I’m so proud of how these Mountaineers have worked and the way our coaches have coached. I’m proud of the way things are moving along right now.”

There is, however, so much swirling around at present, perhaps to be answered at today’s press conference, perhaps not.

There is hiring an offensive staff, a chore that surely will fall to the coordinator and not the head coach. There are players already on the scene and how they fit in. Quentin Spain, for example, is a redshirt freshman offensive tackle who, at 330 pounds, doesn’t seem to fit into Holgorsen’s offense.

Does he play this year or transfer? How does Ryan Clarke, a traditional fullback, fit into an offense called the “Air Raid?”

And what happens when Stewart has a 7 a.m. staff meeting and Holgorsen, who normally doesn’t come to the office until 9 a.m., says no?

All of it is insanity in shoulder pads.

Yet Stewart moves forward as if none of it is going on.

“I’ve taken my marching orders, and we’re going to go finish this thing this year. We’ll talk about the 2011 season when it is upon us. I don’t want to get our guys sidetracked. It is what it is. We’ll prepare for this bowl as best we can, and after that we’ll prepare for the future. I see a very exciting 2011 season, and I mean that,” Stewart said.

“Before we talk about 2011, I need to focus on 2010. How do we finish? That’s what I’ve asked the team. How will you be remembered? That’s the most important thing to this football team right now — we want to finish.”

Perhaps, if that 500-pound gorilla can play fullback, it might work out all right.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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