It was December of 2007, and the West Virginia Mountaineers were just one victory away from playing in the BCS National Championship Game. A win against rival and unranked Pitt would cap off what had been a great year for the WVU squad.
Little did they know, dark days were ahead.
During the big game it seemed WVU could never catch a break, and missed field goals among other things doomed the Mountaineers from the beginning. A great year and a possible first national championship were slowly but surely slipping away. Pittsburgh would end up winning the game 13-9 and crushing the hopes of the Mountaineer faithful. However, things were about to get worse.
On the heels of defeat, West Virginia head coach and WV native Rich Rodriguez announced he was leaving West Virginia and heading to Michigan. This left an already deflated Mountaineers squad without a leader.
In the weeks leading up to the Tostito’s Fiesta Bowl, WVU called upon longtime WVU assistant Bill Stewart to lead the Mountaineers into Arizona where they would meet the Oklahoma Sooners, who had won the Big 12.
The experts said West Virginia did not belong, said they would get blown out, said the coaching turmoil was just too much for the Mountaineers to handle.
Stewart and the state of West Virginia said otherwise.
After giving one of the most memorable pre-game speeches of all time, Bill Stewart led the Mountaineers onto the field and proceeded to shock the world.
On that night Stewart lifted the entire state of West Virginia onto his shoulders and did what nobody said they could do. Not only did WVU win, but it did so in convincing fashion, winning 48-28 and dominating from the opening kick off.
Once named head coach, Stewart would win nine games in each year of coaching the Mountaineers, something that a lot of schools would have loved to have had.
Stewart also was a great recruiter, and many of the team's current players were in fact recruited by Stewart, including star QB Geno Smith.
Throughout his years at WVU, Stewart showed how much he not only loved WVU, but also the state of West Virginia. Players loved him and thought of him as a father figure. The man always had time to stop and talk to a fan while out, and I truly believe would have done anything for anybody when asked.
The West Virginia football program could have folded and gave up, but Coach Stew did not let that happen, and without him we would not be where we are today.
Despite the way his resignation came about, we can not deny what the man did for the university and state.
A true Mountaineer has left us way too early.
Bill Stewart, 1952-2012