Bill Stewart is no longer the head football coach at West Virginia University. That title now belongs to Dana Holgorsen who had been WVU’s head coach in waiting since December. All those skeptics that said the head coach in waiting (HCIW) would never work would seem to have been correct in that assessment. In retrospect, did anyone who said they thought it would work really believe it? Stewart resigned last Friday amid accusations that last December he had asked at least two WVU beat reporters to “dig up dirt” on Holgorsen.
For those who may have missed it, WVU hired a new athletics director about a year ago. That person was Oliver Luck, a former star quarterback at WVU who played that position with the Houston Oilers. He ran NFL Europe and the Houston Sports Authority. He was also serving on WVU’s Board of Governors at the time he was hired as athletics director. His son, Andrew, would likely have been the top pick in April’s NFL draft, but the younger Luck opted to return to Stanford and play quarterback in his senior season.
So, Luck knows a little bit about football. Very early in Luck’s tenure there were rumblings that Stewart’s new boss may not be satisfied with Stewart as the head football coach. Nothing was said publicly, but depending on where you looked and listened, there were rumblings.
These bits of innuendo began even before the season began and most people scoffed at the suggestion that Luck and WVU would fire a coach that won nine games in his first two seasons with a promising campaign on the horizon. The promising campaign ended up as another nine win season for Stewart, but there was a near loss to Marshall very early in the season that left many fans distraught with what was going on in the program. Later, there were back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut that made West Virginia’s chance of getting a lucrative BCS Bowl game an uphill battle.
It is believed, but not confirmed, that Luck’s mind was made up during the Syracuse and Connecticut weeks that a change needed to be made. Despite a strong finish that saw Stewart’s Mountaineers win the final four games, the decision to bring in Holgorsen had been made and was announced in December, two weeks before the Mountaineers were to play the Champs Sports Bowl. Stewart said he was on board with the decision and he was a team player. He would do what was good for the program.
Suddenly the WVU house was divided even more as Stewart had been a lightning rod for debate since he was hired in the wee hours following West Virginia’s Fiesta Bowl win in 2008. Lots of fans loved Bill Stewart, but a large number of those fans never thought he should be the head football coach at WVU. The nine win seasons didn’t seem that impressive, because the perception was that the Mountaineers were a couple games a season better than that. In any event, Stewart had his supporters and his detractors, and probably more detractors than any recent coach. Seems Luck may have been one of the detractors.
When the allegation was made last week there were plenty of people in the blogosphere, insinuating that Stewart had been leading a campaign to smear Holgorsen since December. As last week played out it was assumed that Stewart had coached his last game as a Mountaineer. The only thing to find out was just how it was going to be played. All information said it would be done quietly.
Quiet is exactly how it was. An announcement was made, and Stewart neither confirmed, nor denied the allegations. Also unclear were the financial terms of the separation, but it is believed Stewart has generated a nice nest egg for his three years as head coach plus whatever he gets to go away.
So, if Stewart can’t keep his ego in check to allow a HCIW plan to work, it probably won’t work in very many scenarios. Luck is taking plenty of heat for implementing the plan, but the thinking here is Luck likely wanted a clean break, but was persuaded to come up with the HCIW. It’s been a very interesting process and we may never get all the facts. Not sure what happened to Stewart, but he’s not the guy who three years ago said, “You’ll never have to tell me when to leave.”