On May 21, former West Virginia Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart passed away from a sudden heart attack. He had been playing a round of golf with WVU's former athletic director when he collapsed.
Those are the facts that ESPN and various media sources have reported. Anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Bill Stewart have been singing the praises of one of the nicest men they have ever met.
I never met Bill Stewart. I, the Miami Hurricane fan who started following WVU football once I moved to Morgantown, only knew Coach Stew through what I saw on the football field and what I read in the media.
I was livid in 2007 when Rich Rodriguez decided to leave WVU for the University of Michigan. Even though a great Mountaineer season had fallen short of the National Championship, I was certain that a returning Steve Slaton and Pat White would guarantee another chance at WVU's first National Title. Rodriguez' move is still viewed as selfish in my eyes and only lessened once Michigan fired him in 2011.
What followed was a story made for the movies. Associate head coach Bill Stewart was pegged to take over the Mountaineers for their Fiesta Bowl matchup with the #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. Stewart left his team with his infamous "Leave No Doubt" speech before they took the field:
The speech and the hurt left by Rodriguez was enough for the underdog Mountaineers to romp to a 48-28 win. Stewart was carried off the field on his player shoulders. Roll credits.
WVU decided to make Bill Stewart the permanent coach after his thrilling upset. And that's where my differences begin.
Again, I never met or spoke with Bill Stewart. And I could be a dick and list all my problems I had with his WVU teams (which I just did, but a WordPress save error just wiped out an hour's worth of research and work) but I won't.
I was never a fan of Stew's coaching. But when you hear so many stories about how good-natured he was, it's hard to hate a man just based off his coaching. Especially when he's a fellow West Virginian. As happy as I was about Dana Holgorsen taking the reigns of the football program, I always wished Bill the best.
Living in Morgantown, you learn just how important WVU sports is to a state without any major sports teams. People enjoy the basketball seasons but football season is year round. The bad years are looked over as individuals and Don Nehlen are lauded for just being apart of the program. The 1988 season is still talked about like it was yesterday. The tailgating starts the Thursday before the game and the partying can get out of control. If you're in Morgantown, even if you're not a fan, you can easily be pulled into Mountaineer madness.
Unless Rich Rod goes on to create one of those great all-time programs down the line (it won't be at Arizona), he'll eventually be forgiven and be mentioned in WVU's hallowed history. Stewart was already revered despite his resignation (he allegedly asked reporters to dig up dirt on Holgorsen, a very un-Stew like accusation) and most fans consider his four seasons highly successful.
As I said at this article's start, Bill Stewart passed away unexpectedly. Despite all the great things so many people have said and all the years of service he gave WVU (11), he passed away playing a leisurely game of golf. It reminds me of story Kevin Smith has been sharing in recent years about his father passing away. All his father did was grow up, get a job, get married, and have three kids. Never tried to step on any toes, just tried to do what is right. After being sick for a lengthy period of time, the whole Smith Clan came together in Philadelphia and Kevin said he never saw his father so happy. A few hours later, his father, who never tried to anything but the right thing, died screaming. The event changed Kevin's outlook on life as he has tried to encourage anyone who will listen to do what they want with life before they die screaming unfairly. You can find this story told in Kevin's book Tough Shit and his recent Q&A DVD Burn In Hell.
The reason I share that story now is because I think Stew's story is similar to Kevin's father. A good man tries to to live a good life and at 59 years of age, he could pretty much think that he had. He goes out to shoot a round of golf and he dies. What did Bill Stewart do to deserve that death?
Stewart was laid to rest in New Martinsville on May 25th. This was after a private viewing in Morgantown Thursday where family, friends, and fans said goodbye to Coach Stew. All Bill Stewart did was take over a WVU program that could have been thrown into turmoil after Rod left and held the reins steady. I realize that now.
For all my bitching and crying when he was coach, I never took the time out to be glad that WVU had Coach Stew. Now that he's truly gone, I feel guilty for never appreciating what he did. I feel worse for never having my own Stew story to tell to any and everyone who would listen. All I have is various tweets from the past 4 years about how horrible of a coach he was. And even this article had a slanderous section about what I thought all his failings as a coach were. WordPress didn't save my draft though and all my bitching was lost. It's only right. Bill Stewart tried his best to lead a good life, he doesn't deserve to have some blogger talk about him not even a week after his passing. Bill deserves better.
And I can only hope to be a quarter of the man he was before I die. Rest in peace Bill.