Today marks the seventh anniversary of former WVU football coach Bill Stewart’s death on May 21, 2012. A man well-known for his character and leadership, “Coach Stew” became a steadying force and guiding light for the Mountaineer program in some of the darkest days the team has seen in recent memory. Without the support of Bill Stewart, it is not out of the question that WVU football would be a shell of what it would become under him and his successor.
Coach Bill Stewart was a West Virginian through and through, being raised in Wetzel County, WV and becoming a standout offensive lineman at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville. The stadium of his alma mater now bears his name in memoriam of their one of their greatest alumni. He spent one year as a walk-on with the Mountaineers before transferring and becoming a three-year letter winner for the Fairmont State Fighting Falcons. He would begin his coaching career with stints at Fairmont State, Sistersville High School, and Salem College before he joined his first Division I staff at North Carolina under Dick Crum in 1979. Stew became a well-tenured assistant coach over the next fourteen years, spending time at Marshall, William & Mary, Navy, North Carolina for a second time, Arizona State, and Air Force.
In 1994, Coach Stewart was named to his first career head coaching position at the Virginia Military Institute, a post he would hold for three years. It was here that he gave current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin his first coaching job as an assistant in 1995. After his resignation the following year, he would make a jump to the Canadian Football League first as the offensive line coach for Montreal Alouettes in 1998 and offensive coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999. In 2000, Don Nehlen gave him the opportunity to return home to West Virginia, becoming quarterbacks coach. He was kept on when Rich Rodriguez replaced Nehlen and added responsibilities for special teams as well. In 2007, he became tight ends coach and associate head coach.
Mountaineer fans will undoubtedly remember that following the 2007 regular season, head coach Rich Rodriguez resigned to take the same position at the University of Michigan. The program, facing a Fiesta Bowl bid against Oklahoma, was thrown into chaos but one man was able to calm the storm. Associate head coach Bill Stewart was elevated to interim head coach and made his mark on one of the greatest teams in WVU history. In an impassioned pregame speech that would be quoted by Mountaineer fans for years, Coach Stew implored his players to “Leave No Doubt” on the field that night in Arizona before leading them to a 48-28 win over a highly touted Sooner team. Shortly thereafter, with support from his old friend Mike Tomlin, Bill Stewart was named the full-time head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Coach Stewart would spend three years at the helm in Morgantown, tallying identical 9-4 records in each season. However, it was not the success he had on the field that would endear him to WVU fans the most. The quintessential man of the people, Stew was someone the Mountaineer faithful could view as one of their own, a local boy that had done good. His charismatic nature, unquenchable spirit, and passion for the people of his home state made him one of the most iconic figures in the history of the university. Coach Stewart preserved the WVU football program so it could become the powerhouse that it is today. He kept the juggernaut alive when every possibility to tear it down seemed to manifest at once. Bill Stewart carried the torch for the team, university, and state that he had loved since he was a boy and Mountaineer fans across the world will forever be indebted to this great man as a result of his passion.