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Stewart Was One of a Kind

May 22, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Bill Stewart always said life, on and off the field, was about people, about becoming successful, about helping others to feel that way each and every day.

That's the way he lived.

Stewart, the former West Virginia University football coach who died as the result of an apparent heart attack Monday, a couple weeks shy of his 60th birthday, was one of a kind.

He was a man who was tougher than an old pine knot - his words - but also passionate, positive, kind, generous, caring - a true gentleman, first-class all the way. He was someone who never forgot a name or saw a hand he wouldn't shake.

Those were the universal words Monday of seemingly everyone who ever met him.

He was brought up that way in New Martinsville by a father whose raised voice was often enough and a mother who would ''take him behind the woodshed'' if it wasn't.

His greatest gift to West Virginia wasn't a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2008. It was the daily bear hug he gave it.

We know all of that now. But that wasn't the sentiment used by some national college football writers in the days after Stewart was hired as WVU's head coach.

They said it was a bad move. They said football programs that fancy themselves as relevant don't hire special teams coaches. Some took it further.

And then they met Bill Stewart.

''He has every reason to hate me based on the things I wrote about him before I ever met him, yet he put his arm around me and treated me like a human, even though I sometimes wonder if I really am,'' was one writer's response.

That's just who Stewart was.

''People that are insecure would worry about what the naysayers say," Stewart said. "I don't sleep long, but I sleep very well every single night. That means we're doing everything we can possibly do in the right manner and the best manner in which you can do it. If you're doing that as a staff, as a team, as a person, then that other stuff is all self-imposed, self-inflicted worry. And I don't have an ounce of that in my body.''

Nope, what he had was a big heart, one that perhaps not unexpectedly failed him, considering he used it more than most.

Stew was once asked how he handles a player who makes a mistake, such as a dropped pass, when he met him on the sideline. He responded that yelling at them and telling them not to fumble the football is not coaching, it's ''just total harassment."

''These guys have to play for you, not in spite of you,'' he noted.

In today's game, where coaches are making millions of dollars a year and they can fit every last bill in their inflated egos, Stew's genuine nature was a breath of fresh air.

His players appreciated it to no end. That's why they went out and won 28 of the 40 games he coached at WVU, and why he was able to recruit the kind of talent that has the Mountaineers as potential preseason favorites in a conference with Texas and Oklahoma in it.

His former players, from NFL stars to fifth-stringers, took to social media Monday, tears flowing, and offered the kinds of thoughts only someone whose life could have been affected by Stewart could have used, including more than a dozen in less than three hours from former kicker Pat McAfee.

A knock on Stewart was that he gave special treatment to players who were headed down the wrong path.

He reached out to those kids not because he saw a few more touchdowns in them. He did it because he saw potential in the men those kids would be one day. And this wasn't the time to give up on that.

He raised eyebrows when he hired an assistant coach from a rival school, then forbid that coach from going after any players he'd recruited prior to leaving. It's a common - albeit unscrupulous - practice in today's game. Stewart wasn't going to do it that way. He wanted to do it the right way.

That's who Coach Stew was. And a whole lot more.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net

 
 

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