Bill Stewart is a champion.
I know, I know.
Stewart was charged with a mission. He hasn't carried out that mission to West Virginia's standards. Simply, Stew hasn't coached the Mountaineers to enough wins.
That magic number is 11. Rich Rod, the pariah of Almost Heaven, led the team to that number in 2005, 2006 and just about all of 2007.
Mountaineer fans have become accustomed to 11 wins. The fans are disappointed if WVU falls short, as has happened in the recent past.
In West Virginia's quest for 11 wins, as gallant as that pursuit is, there is something more important than any one of those 11 wins. It's how one becomes a true winner:
Pride + Desire = Champions.
It's an equation that is simple in concept, definite in meaning, difficult to execute, but rewarding to those who make it a major part of their lives.
Losing or winning, Bill Stewart always speaks of Mountaineer pride. I'm convinced that's what drives him, gives him the New Martinsville boy and the West Virginia man the desire to give it his absolute best.
Plug Stew in that equation and no one can deny him the title of champion, of a true winner.
It's 1971. I'm 5'10" and 155 pounds, a really skinny sophomore who interestingly plays in the interior line on my high school football team. Because I possess some speed—for a 15-year-old, that is—I'm on the kickoff coverage unit of a team with a 4-5-1 record.
The assistant football coach is also the basketball coach. We hate him because he's petulant and always looks bored unless one of his players is injured. Then a sadistic smile envelops his face and his eyes grow wild, like he lives to see teenagers writhing on the ground in pain.
He sported a crew cut, which is popular now, but was outmoded in the early '70s. For this, the assistant coach earned a not-so-endearing nickname: Buff Head. Like "Shoe shine, shoe shine, Buff. Buff."
One day, this despised coach whom none of us respect shows up in athletic gray t-shirt, on which is emblazoned: Pride + Desire = Champions.
All the other players made fun of him. One player came up with a sarcastic "Buff Head + Crazy Shirt = Clown."
I didn't feel that way. I got the message. It's irony that the message was delivered by a man whom I think of as a terrible coach and an even worse person, but I was able to separate the equation from the sender.
I haven't always lived up to the message, but I've eventually gone around the bend and come back to the meaning.
That's what is helping me get through Bill Stewart's end game.
A plethora of Mountaineer fans have decided head football coach Bill Stewart can't coach a team of 18 returning starters and a talented quarterback to victory. Home (one loss) or road (two losses), Stewart is an equal opportunity football game loser they've said, a coach who has no quality wins this season.
Sports Illustrated picked up on this problem early, like preseason. In the magazine's college football preview, West Virginia was ranked fifth out of eight Big East teams, mentioning the 18 returning starters, then placing Bill Stewart on the hot seat.
So, WVU sits here at 5-3. That's not a bad record, if you're in the Southeastern Conference. This year, the Big East, or to borrow from New Orleans, the Big Easy, just does not provide Top 25 competition.
West Virginia is damned by cupcakes in both the non-conference and the conference.
I'll be surprised if Bill Stewart is WVU's head football coach in 2011. Stew has referred to himself the "CEO of football" or chief executive officer of football at WVU. This title is accurate. That of course makes him completely accountable for Mountaineer football and the product it is.
It's important to note that CEOs of any corporation are by definition and pragmatically the company's chief salesman. At that position, Bill Stewart excels in talking the talk. The CEO, however, must also walk the walk. That's where West Virginia football now runs into trouble.
Bill Stewart has not shown the ability to consistently coach at the top 25 level. But, folks, that's okay.
Athletic director Oliver Luck will find a coach who can get West Virginia back. I'm sure that'll happen.
My hope is Stewart will be with WVU athletics in some capacity. The rumor mill is grinding, and it says associate athletic director.
I hope that sounds as good to Stew as it does to me. It would be wonderful to keep him in Morgantown. That means two champions will work in West Virginia athletics: Bill Stewart and Oliver Luck.
Can't get any more pride and desire than those two.