The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

June 12, 2011

‘I would fight a war for that man’

WVU players discuss Stewart resignation

MORGANTOWN — If you were looking for West Virginia University players to be ripping on their former coach Bill Stewart on Saturday morning when they finished with their brief workout and a couple of meetings with their former coach and the man who is taking over, Dana Holgorsen, the Puskar Center was not the place to be.

If Bill Stewart wasn’t the right coach for athletic director Oliver Luck, he was in many ways the right coach for the players he was leaving.

Take Jeff Braun, the offensive lineman from Westminster, Md.

“I would fight a war for that man,” Braun said as the mechanics of passing the torch from one regime to another began.

“I’ve known him since my junior year in high school,” Braun said of Stewart, whose three-year career came to an end when he tendered his resignation under pressure on Friday afternoon. “He personally recruited me.”

Stewart, Braun said, was different than most coaches. He cared, not so much about the football player, but about the person.

“I know day in and day out for the past six years that I’ve known the man he takes a step in the right direction and he treats each and every one of his players like he was his son,” Braun said. “I’ve seen that first hand.

“He would tell you things, and they wouldn’t hit you until you went home,” Braun continued. “He cared about you as a person.”

He also understands why Stewart seemed to deteriorate when Holgorsen was hired as a coach-in-waiting, a situation that had no way of working.

“Whatever has happened these six months, I can’t imagine what he’s going through,” Braun said. “Any person who has a dream job and to realize it’s your last year, that’s tough. I know, just as a football player, it’s a different context, but I’ll be a senior next year and it will be the last year I’m doing something I love.

“You may have your faults, but that’s not going to judge a person’s character in the end. One mistake doesn’t change anything I feel on coach Bill Stewart at all.”

Braun understands that Stewart probably made some mistakes that cost him his job. He refuses, however, to hold that against him.

“Everyone makes mistakes. Whether or not Coach Stew made a mistake, I don’t know. To tell the truth, I don’t care,” he said.

Cornerback Keith Tandy had similar feelings about Stewart.

“I loved Coach Stewart ever since I’ve been here. I felt bad about how it ended. He was a real good guy,” he said. “It is better for the program for him to resign now. Now you don’t have tension.”

The coach-in-waiting situation was a problem for the players through the spring.

“When out there you want to focus on making plays, not worrying about who to listen to,” Tandy said.

But here was Stewart, the head coach, and Holgorsen, his anointed replacement.%

  “A lot of times they will tell you different things and you are thinking, ‘Man, who do I listen to?’” Tandy admitted.

Holgorsen, as hard as it is to imagine, is Tandy’s third head coach at WVU. What’s more, he was recruited by Butch Jones, who is now Cincinnati’s head coach.

He admits he never thought he’d be playing for Holgorsen while here, but is happy that the indecision and uncertainty is over.

This past week, the rumors about Stewart’s future and the backlash of Holgorsen’s antics at a Charleston-area casino led to tension among the players who were trying to make it through the summer.

“People back home calling and trying to find out what’s going on, people here trying to find out what’s going on, and I’m telling them, ‘I’m finding out like you’re finding out.’ We look on ESPN and it’s news to us, too,” Tandy said.

“Every time it was on ESPN I’d get three or four text messages, my Momma would call from back home, everyone trying to find out what’s going on, and I don’t know what’s true and what to believe.”

And so it went, everyone crying out for some relief.

Stewart eventually did it for the good of the team, which was what he told the team when he met with them in the morning.

He told them that he would still be a Mountaineer, that he’d be wearing his gold and blue on Saturdays.

“The only thing that’s different is I’ll be wearing red, white and blue on Friday to root for my son (Blaine, who attends Morgantown High),” he reportedly said.

The crowd he and Holgorsen spoke to in separate meetings was sparse, most of the players having left town for down time before drills really kick in later in the summer.

“He talked briefly, but he had a smile on his face,” Braun said. “He would tell you things and they wouldn’t hit you until you go home. He was worried about you as a person more than a football player.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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