Hey Stew, this boo is for you
Things are becoming interesting around the West Virginia University football program. Even though WVU has rebounded from a 1-2 start and is 4-2 heading into next Thursday night's showdown with Auburn, the fans are not very happy.
At the root of the discontent would be one West Virginia native named Bill Stewart. Stewart, you may recall, was the interim coach who guided West Virginia to a stunning win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl last January. Hours after that game Stewart was offered the head coaching job and graciously accepted.
It was a surprise move that no one saw coming. As the coaching search progressed last December it seemed to the casual observer that confusion was the order of the day. It was never clear who the target was, but two or three times a favorite would emerge only to withdraw his name from consideration.
So, when quarterback Pat White accepted his Fiesta Bowl MVP award he nominated Stewart to be the next coach. White's wish was granted and now we are left to deal with the decision.
There were some concerns raised by a few at the time that Stewart wasn't the right guy for the job. There was plenty of support for Stewart, however, as the elixir of winning the Fiesta Bowl was slow to wear off and he seemed to be the player's choice.
Stewart went out and hired a staff, which, on paper, was excellent. Add that Stewart is a likeable guy and you had a fan base which was split. There were those who bought in hook, line and sinker, and those who still had doubts, but did not want to rock the boat. Then there were those who supported the hire only because of strong sentiment at the time.
The honeymoon is now over and the Stewart supporters are dwindling. The problems would seem to be many. From here Stewart just looks out of place. Poor clock management and play calling come to mind. In interviews Stewart defends his actions with stubborn bristling comments, not allowing for the possibility that he may have made some mistakes.
In Saturday's 17-6 win over Syracuse some fans at Mountaineer Field began to boo several times throughout the game. The reason seemed obvious to me and most others seated around me. It was the conservative play calling of Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
West Virginia was clinging to a 10-6 lead late in the fourth quarter and held off a Syracuse scoring attempt inside the WVU 10 yard line. Only a 92 yard touchdown run by Noel Devine on the ensuing possession kept the Orange from getting another crack at the goal line and secured the WVU win.
Coming off the field Stewart was approached by a radio reporter for a comment. Stewart's first response was, The fans should not boo Jarrett Brown. They can boo me all they want, but not the players.
Earth to coach, you are who I thought the boos were being directed toward. I was stunned at that response. Stewart later went on at some length as to how bad Brown had played at quarterback, seemingly deflecting any play calling criticism to the poor play of his QB who was playing because White was out of the game with a head injury.
In a later interview Stewart stated that they limited some of the calls because Brown too was nursing an injury and the coaching staff needed to be careful with what he was asked to do. Of course the injury to Brown begs the question posed here previously, of how wise is it to use your back up QB as a short yardage back?
Anyway, as time goes on, the look and feel of things regarding Mountaineer football, from this perspective, just doesn't seem right as much as I would like to say otherwise. There is still a chance this new staff can find its way, but it may be in spite of the leader, not because of him.
Not sure if this is the beginning of a trend, but WVU found out that its prized quarterback recruit for the 2009 class, Tajh Boyd, has decommitted from West Virginia and plans to go to Tennessee. This is stunning news because Boyd had been very active recruiting other high school players to consider WVU. Stay tuned.