West Virginia has 18 starters returning for the 2010 campaign, nine on offense and nine on defense. Included in the offensive nine are four (!) offensive linemen. That offense is further augmented by a bunch of talented, albeit inexperienced, quarterbacks.
Interestingly, the coaches' preseason poll tallies put the Mountaineers in a tie with Utah at the penultimate number 24 spot.
There's something wrong with this picture.
Or, maybe not.
The latest of the Mountaineer teams obviously know how to put a good season together, as is evident by the back-to-back nine wins in both 2008 and 2009. WVU has history.
So, the 18 starters are returning along with the field goal kicker. They've been there and have the t-shirt. Many coaches, not excluding Rich Rod, would pay money for a football team with this level of experience.
All that information was fed to the sixty-some coaches on the AFCA polling board. They voted. What spat out was this: the coaches said, perhaps screamed, that the man with the 18 wins in two years and 18 returning starters this year will probably barely finish in the final poll.
Sadly, Bill Stewart's peers just passed judgment on him: he cannot and will not do the job.
Man, I really do not like hearing that and it hurts even worse to say it, but I've said before and I think I'm going to say it again. Bill Stewart's on the hot seat, and it wasn't just some writer like me who put him there. It was his own brethren.
I must admit, I initially sat him down on the sizzler during the week before WVU hosted Colorado in 2009. Dan Hawkins' Buffaloes were traversing the two time zones to meet Bill Stewart's Mountaineers. Because there was regret by the boosters in both Boulder and Morgantown, comparisons between Stew and Hawk came naturally.
The coaches were solidly revolving around one another like a far away binary star. That is, not too bright. Nowhere near a Nick Saban/Urban Meyer binary star bright.
I can't help but imagine one of those kerosene-fired benches that are popular during the butt-cold final weeks of the season in Morgantown. The two head coaches, popular within their communities for their upbeat attitudes, were not fulfilling expectations and were sitting beside each other on that long heated pew.
Those connected were not satisfied with the coaches' records. Hawk was definitely not winning, and Stew was not winning enough.
During the 2009 season, Hawkins was at 3-9. His chair of fire made sense. Interestingly, Stewart's situation, at 9-3, was counterintuitive, bordering on weird. Nine wins in 2008, but he clearly did not leave the Mountaineer fans with warm fuzzies.
Tough room, this state of West Virginia.
So, the 2010 coaches are saying it, implicitly perhaps, but that's all they need to say. We've heard it so many times. After two full seasons, we've heard it already so many times.
There has been a cadre of Fire Bill Stewart fans since Stew took Pat White to Greenville, North Carolina, and was met with an old-fashioned butt whippin'.
For those keeping a score card, that was Stewart's second game as West Virginia's head coach. Second game, because the Fire the Man posse had gone long, long beyond the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
Thrashing Oklahoma 48-28 doesn't count?
Tough, tough room.
This piece parallels a recent article by my fellow West Virginia Featured Columnist RG Yoho, in which he wrote very well about the Stew dilemma.
Here's how I feel about it: call me a pushover, but we have to give Bill Stewart credit for being a man true to his principles and values.
I believe this, and it's personal to me. My older daughter was once a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Ruby Memorial in Morgantown. There are a lot of sad stories there. Too many. She tells me it is at times an extremely difficult place to work.
Bill Stewart showed up one day to thank the nurses and the staff for the jobs they do. He didn't have to do that. And, I've heard other stories of other Stew appearances to pump up morale or, as with the pic-u at Ruby, just to say thanks.
Bill Stewart has taken his position as Mountaineer head coach and has used it to spread the love, exponentially.
In my opinion, Bill Stewart is one of the greatest ambassadors Almost Heaven has known.
Sure, he stared into the clouds against 2008 East Carolina. He lost to a 6-6 Florida State and choked at Auburn.
Stewart is prone to over-analyze games he loses. At 2008 East Carolina, there was a bad call and it was hard to recover. At 2009 Cincinnati, the replay booth got it all wrong and that just blew the game.
And Bill Stewart may have a battle on his hands as West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck wades through the NCAA accusations.
On the other hand, consider Stew's post game interviews after a victory. He looks Erin Andrews in the eyes and delivers a long, rambling diatribe of sons, fathers, and men of faith, stuff that makes you look down and paw the turf wishing he would finish.
He's goofy, but how can you argue with the coach telling Erin Andrews it is his job to build men of faith? Do you think she'd disagree? I don't have a problem with that.
Look at the 2010 schedule. Marshall may give him fits this year in the Joan C. Edwards viper pit in Huntington. The Herd is excited, fired up, and running on fumes. In other words, they're dangerous. That's not good for the road warriors from WVU.
Marshall looks tougher than the pre-season magazines and Internet services are giving them credit for. So, here's what Bill Stewart must do:
Go to Baton Rouge and beat LSU.
Go into Tiger Stadium and, as it is said in the modern dance community, sell it. Take nothing home. Leave it all in Louisiana.
A 2010 victory over the Bengal Tigers gives Stew the signature road win he so desperately needs. Don Nehlen got his in the opener of his third season against Oklahoma in Norman. Rich Rod did it late in his second season at Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.
It's not too late for Bill Stewart to make that statement. Sticking it to an SEC team in SEC country will do just that.
Then maybe we can say, "Nice guys do finish first."
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