“Match the Mountains”—that was Bill Stewart’s challenge to the West Virginia University football team entering its game with the Louisville Cardinals on November 20.
Stewart wanted his team to parallel the beauty, majesty and strength represented in West Virginia’s geography.
To Stewart’s credit, the team answered his challenge and won the final three games on its schedule.
On November 14, Stewart signed a modified contract with WVU, setting in motion athletic director Oliver Luck’s decision to hire Dana Holgorsen.
Holgorsen will be the offensive coordinator for the 2011 season and will replace Stewart as head coach for the 2012 season.
Stewart will move into a position in the athletic department following the 2011 football season.
The boldness and brevity of Luck’s decision has been so great that since its announcement WVU’s Champs Sports Bowl game with North Carolina State University has become an afterthought, a bowl game that is just seven days away.
Current offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and offensive line coach Dave Johnson will be unemployed as coaches at WVU when the final gun sounds in Orlando.
As if that was not enough for the two coaches, it is widely speculated that Stewart held the information of their replacement from them.
Luck offered to tell Mullen and Johnson of the coaching change. Stewart took that responsibility and reportedly failed to inform the two coaches of Luck’s intentions—or did he?
Jeff Mullen was one of the finalists for the vacant head coaching position at Kent State University. There is an argument that the offensive coordinator position at WVU is a better job.
Kent State was happy with just under 90,000 in attendance this past football season. Its final game against Ohio University had just fewer than 9,000 in attendance. Dix Stadium, the Golden Flashes' home field, has a capacity of 25,000.
Those attendance numbers look like basketball attendance numbers, not football.
The fact that Mullen was even considering the position at Kent State calls into question his overall knowledge of the situation at WVU. On the other hand, was it just coincidence that Mullen was actively seeking the Kent State job?
Dave Johnson turned down a head coaching position at a Division II school. Had Johnson been aware of the intentions of Luck, would he have turned that head coaching position down?
Stewart hired Johnson away from the University of Georgia. Once again, the argument that a position at Georgia or WVU is better than a head coaching position at a Division II school is valid.
Certainly, Johnson would prefer to stay at the FBS level as a coach, even if it meant waiting a year for a position to materialize.
As with his first game as interim coach in the Fiesta Bowl, Stewart must unite a fractured coaching staff and prepare a team to play in a bowl game. Add to that the Mountaineers gave up five of their 15 allowed bowl practices.
“My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.”—Marshall Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) supreme commander of Allied forces in 1918, one of Stewart’s many favorite quotes by military commanders.
Members of Mountaineer Nation need not worry. Stewart and his staff will have his team prepared to play in the bowl game. Stewart will turn the aforementioned problems into rallying points for his team.
Ironically, the ticket sales by WVU for the Champs Sports Bowl are lagging. WVU has sold approximately 4,500 of the 12,500 tickets allotted. The athletic department needs to either sell the remaining tickets or eat the cost of those tickets.
Attendance at home games was a key factor in Luck’s decision to hire Holgorsen in the first place.
The rest of the story will unfold after the bowl game when Holgorsen comes to Morgantown. Speculation abounds that Stewart will not stay in Morgantown to tutor Holgorsen about the intricacies of Mountaineer football tradition.
My guess is that Stewart “Matches the Mountains” and remains for his final season as head coach and then accepts his move into the athletic department at the end of next season.
After all, maybe Douglas MacArthur said it best: “Like the old soldier in that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the sight to see that duty.”
Bill Stewart is a Mountaineer born and bred. Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer.