By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 19, 2007
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The last time Bill Stewart worked the sidelines as a head football coach was at VMI in 1996. In about three weeks he will be coaching on one of college football’s biggest stages when he leads the No. 9-rated West Virginia Mountaineers against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Stewart, a New Martinsville native, was appointed interim head coach by Director of Athletics Ed Pastilong Tuesday evening following the abrupt resignation of head football coach Rich Rodriguez.
“I work on a handshake,” Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. “My daddy told me a long time ago when I was a little fella if you’re going to work for a man give him the best day’s work you can give him. He learned that down on the corn fields in Ben’s Run, West Virginia, and I’ve done that my whole life growing up on the Ohio River and the places I have been. I will give you everything I’ve got and when it gets too tough for others it’s just right for Billy Stewart.
“That’s the way I’m going to approach it.”
West Virginia will be two coaches short for the Fiesta Bowl with defensive backfield coach Tony Gibson also giving his resignation on Tuesday to join Rodriguez at the University of Michigan.
“There may be some young men who will not be coached by the some of the people they were used to but these young people are tough,” Stewart said. “I hope things can work out to where as many of the people that want to stay here can but that’s out of my control. We’re going to have to rely on the great leadership of our administration - President (Mike) Garrison, Director of Athletics Ed Pastilong - and all of the people involved. I know they’re going to do what’s right for these young men in the football program.”
Stewart said the team has had six practices since the end of final examinations and have had practices each day since it was first announced by Michigan on Sunday that Rodriguez was taking over the Wolverine program.
“We had a great practice today. We were in full pads for about an hour and a half,” Stewart said. “We had some nice banging which we need to do. Everyone was just as spirited as ever.”
According to Stewart, the players have performed admirably in dealing with a very difficult situation.
“I’m so proud of these players,” he said. “They’re out there working their hearts out. They’re in a little bit of limbo not knowing what is out there awaiting them in the future but they have been very resilient; they have kept right to the task at hand. They’ve prepared well. They’re watching film. They’re meeting with their coaches. They’re flying around.
“Some of them were down there wrestling with each other and that’s good when the lads bang on each other and their tempers flare a little bit. We walked away shaking hands and everyone seemed to be pleased with the effort that was put forth,” Stewart said.
The interim coach said that offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith will handle the play calling for the bowl game. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will continue to handle the defensive preparation.
“I get bored every now and then and I may throw an idea or two out,” Stewart said. “We’ve worked very well the last few days together. We’ve done the drills we’ve needed to do: the two-minute drills, the passing drills, the inside runs, goal line, and red zone. Things won’t change much.”
Stewart said the game plan has already been in place and mentioned that it would be foolish to make wholesale changes in such a short period of time.
“There will be a wrinkle or two, sure. We’re not going to lay all of our cards out on the table. My style will be different than someone else’s style,” Stewart said. “There will be some things that we will like to do.
“All I worry about is how the Mountaineers block and tackle. I can’t worry about what Oklahoma is going to do,” Stewart said. “We’ll try and adjust as we see how they adjust to us and we’re sure they will have some wrinkles also.”
Stewart says that he has a few more weapons at his disposal than he did when he last ran the sidelines at VMI.
“You fire your guns and you go with everything you have and you try and call the best game you can call. Only trouble is when I was coaching those little fellas down at VMI, which I was very proud to do, we don’t have those same types of little fellas here at West Virginia,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a few more bullets. I told old 5 (Patrick White), 10 (Steve Slaton) and 35 (Owen Schmitt) to lather up and get ready because they’re going to carry the mail a little bit. And then we’re going to throw the ball out there to number 2 (Darius Reynaud) and we’re going to have some fun.”
Stewart says the Fiesta Bowl presents the senior class with an opportunity to erase the memory of their disappointing performance against Pitt three weeks ago in a 13-9 loss to the Panthers.
“They don’t want to go out like they did that last football game and leave that kind of taste in their mouths,” Stewart said. “I give Pitt all of the credit in the world. Pitt played their hearts out and they did a tremendous job. But our guys want to get that taste out of their mouths because it’s a long winter up here in Morgantown. We’re trying to have a better showing than the last game we had here at home.”
In the meantime the players carry on, waiting to see what direction the football program takes in the coming days.
“The fact remains this is not a passing of a life,” Stewart said. “It’s not a tragic situation; it’s just a life altering situation to some of these young people. There are going to be jobs changed and men moving. That’s all.”
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