I was just getting ready to sit down and follow up on last week’s column about conference expansion when I heard the terrible news that former West Virginia University Football Coach Bill Stewart had died of an apparent heart attack. Stewart, 59, was playing in a benefit golf tournament at Stonewall Resort near Weston on Monday when he collapsed. He was rushed to Weston Memorial Hospital. No more details are available at the time of this writing.
Stew’s tenure as the head coach was a bit rocky considering he was a respectable 28-12 during his three seasons. When then new athletic director Oliver Luck arrived, before the 2010 football season, rumors surfaced that Luck wasn’t particularly satisfied with the direction the football program was headed under Stewart. By then the fan base had become more sharply divided on the performance of Stew as well.
Stewart was hired in the hours following the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. Stew was named the interim coach after Rich Rodriguez left the team to go to Michigan. The monumental win led to the hiring of Stew in the wee hours following the game. There were immediate complaints about the rush to make the hire, but overall, it seemed like Mountaineer Nation was willing to give Stew a chance.
As a long time assistant at WVU, Stew was always the friendliest most outgoing coach at the Mountaineer Athletic Club events. He was one of the best closers on the recruiting trail, because he could charm the kids and the parents alike. Stew was a true Mountaineer that ended up in a position that he may not have been best suited for, though many still disagree.
Be that as it may, Luck decided during the 2010 season that he was going to go in a different direction and began a coaching search. He found who he was looking for in Dana Holgorsen, a young offensive mind that had coordinated high-powered offenses at Houston, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Luck’s plan was to bring in Holgorsen as the offensive coordinator/head coach in waiting for a season and have Stew mentor his replacement.
In a perfect world, such an arrangement might be a good idea, but logic dictates otherwise. Still, most thought that if anyone could make that situation work, it was Bill Stewart. Then a couple former WVU football beat reporters alleged that Stew had asked their help to sabotage Holgorsen and his hiring. There was nothing documented, or proven, but those allegations led to Stew stepping down as the head coach a season early. That experiment ended as many expected it might and regrettably not the way most wanted for Stew to exit.
Briefly, on the expansion front, there was big news last Friday when the SEC and Big 12 announced a partnership to create a post season New Year’s Day bowl game between its conference champions. If the champs of those conferences are involved in the expected four-team playoff, the conferences would put up the next best team.
There are many layers to this announcement and details to be worked out, but the early indications are that this game aligns the SEC and the Big 12 much like the Big 10 and Pac 12 are aligned with the Rose Bowl. It also seems to identify those four conferences as the major players in college football and puts the ACC in a very precarious position. A raid on the ACC by the SEC and Big 12 may have been a long shot before last Friday, but you can bet now that schools within the ACC that are “football minded” will be willing to talk now.