Bill Stewart, the longtime college football coach, passed away Monday afternoon after an apparent heart attack according to MSNsportsNET.com. Thoughts are with his family, as it comes quite unexpectedly for the 59-year-old retired coach who was currently working as an analyst for ESPN.
Stewart will not be remembered as one of the game's innovators, and sadly, his longtime service to the game may only end up as a footnote in the annals of college football. However, we will remember Stewart's biggest moment, the epic game that earned this almost-lifelong assistant his shot to run a major program: the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
Prior to December 2007, Stewart was far from a household name. He was a man who spent his career as an assistant, save for a couple years leading VMI. That all would change on the strength of his work as the interim coach for the Mountaineers.
After a gut-wrenching defeat in the Backyard Brawl, the Mountaineers were out of the BCS race and their head coach was taking off for greener pastures. It was a tough spot to be in, but Stewart stepped up to the plate to help galvanize the Mountaineers going into their bowl game against the Oklahoma Sooners. This game was his moment, his audition, his opportunity to step up and prove what he could do as a head coach.
What ensued was a legitimate beating of the Sooners. Not an overtime, trick-filled stunner the way Boise State had done things against Oklahoma. No, Stewart's team came out focused, ready for business and it opened up a beating on the boys from Norman, 48-28. After the game, Stewart would get the greatest compliment any coach in his position could get—he got the job.
If there's a way to remember Stewart at his best, it has to be out there in Arizona: his players praising his efforts; his players showing their admiration of their coach in their play; and his administration backing him all the way. That's the best of Stewart.
Obviously, leading the program took its toll on the coach. The Dana Holgorsen situation was not easy for either party, and the ugly way that played out is something most folks would like to forget.
In losing Stewart so unexpectedly, the best way to remember the man, the coach, is to think about his moment, the one that saw him shine his brightest.