Following his outstanding victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, West Virginia assistant coach Bill Stewart was awarded the Mountaineer head coaching position.
The announcement of the school’s head coaching selection was greeted with praise, surprise, and protest.
Moreover, the 2008 Mountaineer football season was met with a smattering of those same three qualities.
Perhaps no football coach in West Virginia’s history was ever so unfairly criticized in his debut season! A genuinely kind and decent man was savaged in the press and on sports message boards on a daily basis.
In fact, I don’t even recall that level of condemnation being directed at Rich Rodriguez in the midst of his 3-8 inaugural season in Morgantown.
Rodriquez’s innovative spread offense won him football games; his stubborn resistance to tradition cost him championships.
Unlike Bill Stewart, Rodriguez is much too proud to ever admit he made a mistake. If his spread offense is being shut down by an aggressive defense, Rodriguez will continue employing the exact same strategy until time finally expires.
If you stack the box against Rodriguez’s offense, he simply refuses to change his game plan. It’s not that Rodriguez would rather lose the game than change; it’s simply that his arrogance will not allow him to admit his “brilliant” strategy isn’t working.
Pitt and South Florida both knew this about Rodriguez and constantly employed that knowledge to beat him.
It was obvious to anyone who listened to Stewart—before the Fiesta Bowl and going into this past season—that he disagreed with Rodriguez’s stubborn resistance to throwing the ball downfield when the running game and the bubble screens were not being successful.
Stewart’s approach to the game is much different. He will generally try to run a spread offense. But if you repeatedly shut down the Mountaineers by stacking the box on him, then Stew will burn you downfield on a forward pass.
He proved that against Oklahoma, South Florida, North Carolina, and Pitt. Moreover, he only lost one of those four games.
The decision to change the offensive style was a bold and gutsy move by Coach Stewart. It cost him some football games. It definitely cost him some good will.
Throughout this past season, any thoughtful observer of Stewart’s team could tell that the Mountaineers offense, despite the presence of Pat White, was still a work in progress.
At last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl, you finally saw the full implementation of Stew’s offense. Not only did it win the game over the Tarheels; it also resulted in a second round NFL draft selection for Pat White.
No doubt somebody will blister me and say that I am opposed to any criticism whatsoever of Coach Stewart. That is simply not the case! I am saying, however, that you cannot write off any coach without giving him at least three years.
Everybody knows the mistakes that were made last year. I am confident that Stewart knows them as well. However, the difference in Stew and Rod is that Stew’s ego won’t keep him from correcting them.
Good coaches will never become great coaches unless they are willing to recognize their mistakes and correct them.
A key sign to look for this year will be the kickoff coverage.
Obviously, the poor kickoff coverage cost the Mountaineers a league title last year against Cincinnati. If that is corrected, then West Virginia should find themselves a favorite to win the Big East.
What if it isn’t corrected?
Then Coach Stewart might find himself looking for a job in a couple of years.
I believe Coach Stewart has already taken steps to correct the short yardage difficulties. I also think the fullback, tight end, and offensive line play will be solid this coming year.
With the departure of Pat White, I am sure many will be surprised by the excellent play of our quarterback, Jarrett Brown. I also think it likely that many will be surprised by the maturation of Coach Bill Stewart.
But there’s no reason to be.
The team and the offense both now fully belong to them.
Bill Stewart can coach; Jarrett Brown can play.
I look for both of them to show it this coming year!