When some of you read this, you will think I am talking about West Virginia’s potential bowl opponent. But you would be incorrect.
The toughest opponent Coach Bill Stewart will face this year doesn’t show up on any schedule. In fact, the game might not even be played this year. Perhaps, it will be next season, or maybe it will be the following year.
Maybe the game will never be played at all.
The opponent is tough and wily. Quite often, they are unpredictable. The game plan to victory is uncertain and the intangibles in this game are often hard to identify.
The game I am talking about is the battle to win the hearts of all Mountaineer fans.
Everybody loves Bill Stewart as a person, something that has been both his blessing and his curse .
Coach Stewart is like the guy in school who carries the books for the homecoming queen. Unfortunately for him, she is still thinking of the bad boy, the jerk who broke her heart.
Nobody questions Stewart’s love for the state of West Virginia, the Mountaineers, and their incredible fan base. Unfortunately, that love has never been fully returned.
Some Mountaineer fans think Stewart is too nice to be a good football coach, although history has shown us many instances where kind and generous men have prevailed while coaching this often brutal game.
More disturbing to me, is the fact that some Mountaineer fans think in order to win, a coach needs to be slimy and unscrupulous, bringing to mind a recent coach in Mountaineer history.
I do believe even a nice coach needs to have “a killer instinct” in regards to his opponents. He needs to seal the victory by continuing to do those things that are clearly beating the opposition.
In the case of the Auburn game and the bowl game against Florida State, Stewart failed to stay with the punishing runs of Noel Devine, which were shredding the Tigers’ and Seminoles’ defenses.
It is precisely this perception that leads people to question Stewart’s ability.
Any doubts about Coach Don Nehlen were probably erased following Nehlen’s 1981 Peach Bowl win over the Florida Gators. If Nehlen still had any doubters following that game, he finally won their hearts with his opening day road victory over Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners in 1982.
Many of the doubts about Rich Rodriguez were erased following West Virginia’s back-to-back road victories against Virginia Tech and Pitt in 2002. He completely won over the fans that following year, after narrowly losing a national televised game to Miami. On the heels of the Miami loss, his squad ran the table and earned a share of the Big East title.
Unfortunately for Bill Stewart, despite some big victories, Stew has yet to completely win over the fans.
That victory still awaits Coach Stewart.
I have no idea when that moment might come for the Coach Stewart. Perhaps it isn’t one game, or even a series of games. I do, however, think a road victory over LSU this year and a Big East title would greatly silence the critics.
But would it be enough for Stewart to fully win the hearts of Mountaineer fans? Only time and fate will tell.
The toughest opponent for West Virginia’s coach Bill Stewart, game thirteen is still yet to be confronted.
Perhaps this will be the year.