By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The tributes have poured in all week for Bill Stewart, the former West Virginia University football coach whose sudden and unexpected death from a heart attack at age 59 on Monday stunned the state, but it wasn’t the administrators or executives or politicians who really knew him.
You want to know about Bill Stewart, you go to his people … the players.
To hear them talk about him, about the love and respect they have for him, about the way he guided them through tough times and taught them right from wrong, that is where you really come to know the man.
Quincy Wilson, who may have produced the greatest run in WVU history against Miami after catching a quick flare pass, a run that almost created a stunning road upset, on what Stewart meant to him:
“He was our special teams coach most of the time I was there. He was always so passionate about what he talked about and had so much energy that it always translated out onto the field. He always wanted to be one of those guys who gave his speech at the beginning of the game.
“Before I got on the field much, Coach Stewart was pretty much my coach. I was always going to him and telling him I wanted to get on the field and asking what I could do. He, at least, gave me some playing time in those days.”
Dan Mozes, All-American center now working for former WVU strength coach Mike Barwis as a personal trainer, on how Stewart won over his mother during recruiting:
“My mom really liked Coach Stew. He was a blue collar guy. He worked his way up through the ranks to get where he was in the coaching world. My mom’s the same kind of person. She worked really hard to get where she is. Every time I came back he always asked how my mom was doing.”
Former offensive tackle Ryan Stanchek’s observations on Bill Stewart:
“Coach Stewart was a special man who touched the hearts of many. He truly had a dynamic that very few coaches have and taught boys to be men along with all the x’s and o’s. He was real, and that’s important because 18-22-year-old men can smell fake people a mile away, and Coach Stew was true to himself and I know his players loved that about him.
“My fondest memories were right before the games when he was the special-teams coordinator. He would come in the locker room and explain to every guy on the team about the special-teams reports he had just seen the opposing kicker and punter doing in pre-game warm-ups.
“It was amazing to see how locked in and interested every Mountaineer was about the direction of the wind, the times of the long snapper’s snaps and the exact yardage of how far the kicker or punter was going to kick the ball. It gave everyone confidence because we felt so prepared.
“I know all the offensive lineman looked forward to his message every week and this weekly message was the start of our pregame speech and inspiration, and Coach Stewart would switch gears at the end of his message and get us fired up. It was amazing to see a man have that much presence to command that much attention of college football players minutes before the game.”
Former quarterback Rasheed Marshall on Coach Stew being Coach Stew:
“We were in a meeting room and Pat (White) sat right across from me. We would always laugh and joke. We were watching some practice film, maybe even a game film. There was a pass batted down that I threw.
“Coach Stew jumped up and said, ‘C’mon, you gotta use that Freddie Wyant jump pass.’
“Me and Pat looked at each other like, ‘Freddie Wyant jump pass? Who in the heck is he talking about?’
“So he said, you guys are so young you need to learn your history of West Virginia history. Freddie Wyant, he patented the jump pass.
“Well, last year we’re at the Don Nehlen golf outing and we had the chance to meet Freddie Wyant and shared that story with him and he loved it.”
Fred Wyant, of course, was the Mountaineer quarterback of their great teams in the 1950s and later became one of the top referees in the NFL.
Mozes on Stewart’s reputation:
“When I went through the NFL interview process, the first person they mentioned was Coach Stew. They’d say, ‘Does Coach Stew still work there?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, he’s still there.’ They didn’t ask about Rich Rodriguez or Rick Trickett, who were the big main guys that I thought of, but Coach Stew. He had a really good reputation with his peers.”
More Mozes on Stewart being named head coach after beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl:
“I wasn’t surprised. The way Coach Stew handled himself, especially before and after the bowl game. The best thing you can do is win bowl games, and Stew is a West Virginia person. He bleeds the blue and the gold, and that’s the way he wanted to be laid down, too. Now he can do that.”
Indeed, Bill Stewart is gone, his funeral today and the players are the ones who will miss him the most.
“He affected a lot of lives and it’s sad to see him go,” Marshall said.
“I know one thing, he sure as hell gave them another Mountaineer in heaven,” Mozes said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.