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Official Review: Bill Stewart’s First Year

By Staff | Dec 29, 2008

Elder statesman Bill Stewart came on the scene during an emotional period for the Mountaineers. The team had just lost its final home game of the original season to Pitt, a team that was supposed to lose by four (count ‘em, FOUR) touchdowns.  But anyone familiar with the rivalry knows that, despite the projection, it was still going to be a good game—that’s what rivalries are all about.

As interim coach, Bill Stewart looked awkward at first. He seemed out of place on that field in Arizona…until the game actually started.  From the opening kickoff to the final tick down of the clock, he bled Mountaineer spirit and heart, yelling out plays and patting Pat White on the head after the hero completed the job. And this was only the third quarter.

But that was only one game, a game that should not have been used to decide the fate of one of the nation’s fasted growing NCAA football programs.

Analysts mocked the university for its gut reaction to the win and subsequent hire. The truth of the matter, however, was that there weren’t many other options at the time. And the school needed to act quickly to prevent Pat White and other players from jumping ship.

As it turned out, Steve Slaton and talented receiver Darius Reynaud ended up leaving anyway, even though they could have waited a year. The loss of full back Owen Schmitt was also another tremendous worry. Without a stable lineup of power backs at his disposal, Stewart would have a hard time continuing the success of the breakout offense.

The first genius idea, seeing as they only had Noel Devine and White left to run the ball, was to throw a bit more often. This plan worked effectively against a wimpy Villanova team, but proved troublesome later in the season due to the virtual vacancy at the receiver position.  Still, White has only managed a handful of interceptions, despite many throw attempts.

This season’s hardest loss may not be the only blowout to East Carolina. It may just be our 3-point loss to a mediocre Colorado team. Some could point to kicker Pat McAfee for that loss, but most are astounded at some of the late game coaching decisions made by Stewart, including fiddling with his headset and letting the clock run down at crucial moments. Take away that win and the season looks a lot better.

The good news about this season is that we won all the games we were supposed to win…in the Big East. By the time the mid of the season came around, everyone feared Cincinnati, and they showed us why at Milan Puskar.

The Pitt game was definitely within our reach. If Noel Devine would have finished with decent yardage, it may have happened. But he was shut down, and it was up to Pat White, a guy who everyone was dead set on stopping, to pull all the extra weight. He couldn’t do it alone, and we ended up losing by merely four points, same as last year.

On a brighter note, we creamed Louisville for the second year in a row, this time by more than one touchdown. We killed Auburn in a decidedly important non-conference match-up in Morgantown. And we managed to finally defeat pesky South Florida in White’s final home game.

If anyone’s disappointed, then tell them to hop in a time machine and go back to the days when Nehlen lost bowl game after bowl game.

Although Stewart often refers to White as the “greatest winner in college football today,” most of us know that’s not the kind of talk that’s going to win the hearts of other recruits.  He needs to have his sights set on the future instead of honoring the present.

But he’s an old-fashioned guy, and he’s proud of the tradition White was able to maintain during his tenure at WVU. Let’s hope he can recruit players similar to White for years to come.

In the end, this season may not have had the amount of regular season wins we’ve been spoiled with the past few years, but it definitely proved that this team has the character and will to choke back the losses and carry on.

Contact Patrick at pdolan@graffitiwv.com