2012/07/31 9:42 am
As the calendar rolls over to August and another season of Mountaineer Football is nearly upon us once again, these last few weeks of waiting can drag on forever for fans of the Old Gold and Blue.
This year, the Mountaineers are coming off of a season that saw a first-year coach take the team to a Big East Championship, an Orange Bowl berth, and a thrilling 70-33 curbstomping of the ACC Champion Clemson Tigers. Expectations are sky high among Mountaineer fans for a new season in a new conference, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, THIS is going to be the year that finally brings a national championship to the Mountain State.
Of course, these lofty and perhaps unrealistic expectations aren't anything new in Morgantown, and Mountaineer fans counting down the days to a new season and a new beginning can pass the time by checking out the book, "Waiting for the Fall: A Decade of Dreams, Drama and West Virginia University Football" by Charleston Daily Mail WVU beat writer Mike Casazza.
The book details all the exhilarating, head-scratching, drama-filled, thrilling, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and otherwise amazing events that have shaped the Mountaineer football program over the course of the past decade. It also provides a brief history of the entire Mountaineer program before going into specifics of the Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart, and Dana Holgorsen eras and all of the unbelievable highs and lows in-between.
Author Mike Casazza was kind enough to talk about the book and answer a few questions for WeMustIgniteThisCouch through a few emails.
And before we kick it off, I couldn't more strongly recommend picking up a copy of the book here. You'll get your football fix, and even the most ardent Mountaineer fan will learn a few surprising details about an amazing segment of WVU football history.
(My questions are in bold. Mike's responses follow verbatim.)
- A major theme of the book is that Mountaineer fans are conditioned to heartbreak, constantly waiting on the other shoe to drop. (The double entendre in the title of the book even suggests as much.) Do you think our heartbreak just comes from unrealistic expectations for a school that really should just be happy to compete with the big boys, or do you think it's more likely that the Mountaineers have just been extremely unfortunate?
This is probably the most important and most delicate question within the book and requires constant maintenance, but I think the answer borrows a little from both.
Expectations are unrealistic everywhere, though to varying degrees. WVU is not immune to this, but it’s not an epidemic like it is at other places. Still, people invest so much into the football here and they want so much in return. That’s just not going to happen every year here and the realization stings.
I don’t think there’s any problem with aspiring to compete with the big boys, though. Not here. WVU has showed it can do just that.
As for the extremely unfortunate part? I definitely think that exists and I don’t think you can deny it. There are way too many examples from the past to argue against it. Put the combination in a canister, shake it up and you’re left with something that is pretty potent.
- You were in the process of writing this book as last season progressed. As I read about and remembered all the different times those "other shoes" dropped on us (ie. Major Harris getting injured on the 3rd play of the national championship game, Quincy Wilson's wild scamper against Miami being immediately followed by Kellen Winslow's 4th down catch and FG, etc.), I couldn't help but think that the LSU game from this previous season was the all-time example of that for Mountaineer fans.
We had about 30 seconds to fully enjoy being in a ball game with the best team in the country before having it ripped away from us again by Morris Claiborne's TD return. I know you covered it in the book, but knowing the narrative you were telling in the book, were you dumbfounded as that play happened in real time?
Uh, no. Rather than waste words or risk hyperbole about how bad WVU’s special teams sometimes were through the years, let’s just agree to say that very rarely have they been good. I don’t want to say there was always a chance for high comedy, but Yackety Sax became the unofficial theme song for whenever a ball was kicked in a game involving the Mountaineers – and I’m serious about that … check my live game blog posts through the years.
A major concern last year, and for that game in particular, was the return game. The Mountaineers didn’t have much depth and in that game had inferior sideline talent. LSU’s special teams talent was much better than WVU’s. The Tigers had better guys and more of those better guys. Maybe WVU could match its offensive talent against LSU’s defensive talent and maybe some of the physical disadvantages on defense against LSU’s brutish offense could be minimized, but special teams was different. There isn’t as much scheming and disguising there. It’s largely speed and skill mixed with some assignments and you saw a few WVU backups blow that play up on the sideline as Claiborne got free. It was the manifestation of the special teams concern.
Now, that being said, it was just brutal to watch, knowing in the back of your head there was no coming back, but realizing you kind of suspected it might happen.
- I really liked that you didn't sugarcoat that our fans haven't always been the best supporters of their teams or coaches, from a half empty Mountaineer Field at the end of the 2007 Louisville comeback, to flying a plane asking for Nehlen's firing, to cheering Brad Lewis' injury, to planting "for sale" signs in Bobby Bowden's yard. Do you think this is typical college fan behavior or do you think we go overboard?
Again, a significant and high-maintenance question. On the whole, I don’t think WVU’s fans are wildly different in their behaviors. The overboard stuff involves arson, profanities and projectiles, but the people who stay on the boat far outnumber the people who lose their minds. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving a stadium or booing the team or openly criticizing a well-paid coach if you don’t like what you see. That’s what fans do and today fans are too smart and asked to do too much to deny them that.
Now there are people who are neither too smart nor asked to do too much and a few of them take way too many liberties, but that’s not unusual, either. Booing an injured player on senior day in front of his parents? Impacting someone’s family? I’ll draw a line a few steps in front of that one. It seems to me WVU’s fans can bail quickly, though, and that intrigues me entering this season because I do believe the Big 12 is going to test fans in a very new way.
- Obviously a great deal of the drama surrounding WVU over the past decade has come off the field with the shuffling of coaches, and your book does as good of a job as I've seen anywhere to describe why they happened and what drove the principals. Let's start with Rich Rodriguez.
The story of Rich Rodriguez leaving is obviously very long and very complicated, but you point to a number of things that he wasn't satisfied with regarding the University. Do you think he had legitimate criticisms or do you think that he was just always going to find some reason to be unsatisfied until he left?
I’ve come to believe so many years later that Rodriguez was probably ahead of his time. This has nothing to do with his designs and success in the spread offense, but everything to do with how he conducted himself behind the curtain. That was very new to WVU, which went from Don Nehlen and his two decades of stability to Rodriguez, who wanted to a whole lot to happen and was willing to do what he had to do to make it happen.
Sometimes I wonder if I blame him. Remember, he was a Division II guy who had nothing. He went to Tulane and got a taste for a high level of success, but also saw what others had that his school did not and probably could not. Then he was off to Clemson, which wants for nothing. That’s quite a rise in a pretty short period and I think he thought it would be at WVU as it was at Clemson. More powerful than that was the he wanted it to be that way at his alma mater. He was professionally, but also personally invested and I don’t think he and his audience knew one another well enough to pull things off as he was making them happen. He got what he wanted an awful lot early on but he was outpacing the patience others wanted to preserve, all the way to the end.
There came a time, and I believe it was after the 2006 season that left a lot of people disappointed, when he realized he was going to have to be the bad guy if he wanted to have the best program. That eventually ran right into an administration that would not continually capitulate to his demands.
- Speaking of RichRod, you mentioned that you were a Cleveland sports fan. I can imagine you probably feel the same about Lebron James as the State of WV feels about Rich Rodriguez? (Local boy turns his back on the local franchise in heartbreaking fashion to chase a title for someone else.)
That’s probably a pretty fair analogy, though I’m not sure James was firing bazookas over his shoulder as he left town.
- I've noticed that when I bring up the 2007 Pitt debacle on WMITC, the instant response from our users is almost universal: "Don't talk about that. I don't want to think about it." Did you have any concerns while doing this book that by detailing the most heartbreaking moment in Mountaineer history that you might turn off some of your potential audience?
Of course. What I recognize and respect about the fans is how they will defend their teams. There was a line there I had to be super careful not to cross, which wasn’t easy because I’m a very honest journalist.
It’s funny you say what you do about that debacle. WVU fans are very aware of their past and the parts that don’t make them proud are better left beneath the unturned stone. Many of the people I come across who have read the book tell me how hard it was to read that chapter. A few take a break – and I mean, they stop at the 13-9 chapter and won’t pick up the book for days or weeks. But it had to be in the book and it had to be detailed, which, I’m sorry, meant it had to be painful.
I will say this, and I use this to defend other parts of what was included: The book is not merely for WVU fans. In fact, one of the biggest motivations I had for writing the book was so that others who see but do not know what happens here can get a better idea.
- Rodriguez was a highly innovative offensive mind who came in to revive a stagnant program, and following a surprising upset over a high-touted opponent in a BCS game, there were (perhaps) unrealistically high expectations for the team in the following season. We're doing it all over again, aren't we?
This is where you link to my book, right? Look, I have no idea how this thing will turn out, but I have probably a different set of values. If I’m a fan, I’m loving this right now because the anticipation is just too much fun. Then comes the season, which may be one of the most competitive and entertaining ever. That’s all I would worry about right now.
That said, I know it’s very different on the other side of the fence and I know people are worried about having a season that falls well below expectations. I do think WVU has a favorable schedule with regard to home and road opponents and I think WVU has fewer questions than some other Big 12 teams. I also think WVU has legitimate concerns about a new scheme on defense and the depth of players required to play it in the Big 12, though over time both might be addressed. But again, we just don’t know. WVU could finish 9-3. I think that can happen. But where are those three losses? This is why we watch and write, right?
Just when I thought I was out, THEY PULL ME BACK IN.
- So Rod bolts for Michigan, the program is in turmoil, and suddenly Bill Stewart unexpectedly leads the team to a rousing victory in the Fiesta Bowl and the subsequent coronation seems to take President Garrison by surprise. (In one of the book's most interesting back-room insights, Garrison finds himself in a suite with Athletic Director Ed Pastilong, super-booster Mike Puskar, and then-Governor Joe Manchin, who are already drawing up the specifics of a contract.)
I have 2 questions here.
1) WTF was Joe Manchin doing there, and
2) Do you think Garrison would've eventually come to the conclusion that everyone else did, that Stewart was the guy, or do you think he was stalling because he had some reservations?
Manchin was allowed to do whatever he wanted. Remember, he was involved in the coaching search. He endorsed three different candidates to WVU – Doc Holiday, Jimbo Fisher and Stewart. He was just too involved in something he obviously cared about, but didn’t really know about, and it affected things. People went to him because WVU would listen and WVU listened because he was the governor, but I think both sides should have tapped the breaks early in the process.
As for Garrison, in every conversation I’ve had with him about this, I sense he was really torn about it, that he knew the timing was not right, but that he felt Stewart was the right guy. He clearly had reservations, especially with the rush to make the hire and not honor interview appointments or shake the bush and see who might fall out, but ultimately he’s the one who has to make the call and I don’t think he does it that night without feeling somewhat good about it. That guy pulled the trigger on a few things that required certainty before activity.
- Obviously, since the book was released, Bill Stewart passed away unexpectedly and there was a great deal of hand-wringing about whether or not he had been treated fairly with regard to his place in Mountaineer history. I felt like you treated him very fairly in your book, but also that you got the same sense that he was in over his head that many of the rest of us felt. Is there anything you regret including or wish that you had?
- Not to sound cold or callous, but not really. It was an honest account of a time that could not be excluded from the story I was telling.
I believe everyone understands that and knows I was affected by his passing. If it was written now, would it be handled differently? I can’t answer that because it was written before. Perhaps this will one day be addressed in a second edition.
- You seem to indicate that Bill Stewart wasn't quite the "aww shucks" country bumpkin that he made himself out to be on a number of occasions, including lying about having a relationship with the Villanova coach, failing for months to tell coaches Jeff Mullen and Dave Johnson that they would be replaced, and obviously what we came to later find out his role in attempting to smear his successor. Were we all fooled to think that he was any different from any other college coach when it came to suiting his own interests?
If you believed he was different and that he was insusceptible to the pressure of coaching high major college football, and all the human elements that are attached, then you were fooled.
But if you were fooled, he did his job. That’s what coaches do. They land on a very small island and the beaches are beautiful, but when they see that ship approaching from the distance and realize there are angry people on board with guns and swords, everything changes. Some make friends, some make enemies, but the best ones do everything they can to keep their feet on that island.
- You point out the number of perceived flaws with Stewart, but the one that I always felt to be severely underreported was the ridiculously small recruiting classes for what a major D-I program should be pulling in. What is your best guess as to why the classes were so small?
The short answer is he didn’t get a high number of recruits and some players weren’t good.
One interesting bit of feedback I’ve gotten from the book is that the theory of undersigning was a prescription penned by a spin doctor. He made it sound like strategy, but I’m told it was reality. The Mountaineers tried to get guys, and maybe aimed a little too high, and perhaps too often, but ended up with a smaller number of players than they needed and wanted.
I think the bigger problem was the misses. The equivalent of one full class of players didn’t make it in his three or four recruiting classes – three or four depending on how you count post-Fiesta Bowl and pre-resignation. Imagine having a six- or eight-scholarship reduction across four or three years. That was a factor in Holgorsen’s first season, to be sure. They were really low on scholarships, even for a Division I team that had a sanction against it.
- Tell the truth. How pissed were you at the "2 percent fact 98 percent hooey" article? (For the record, the Couch had your back.)
Truthfully? Not pissed at all. I’m sure that disappoints, but my reaction was very different. I knew the story back to front and I knew how it was going to end.
We at the Daily Mail worked that first story for weeks, I think to the point that it started to get out the day before we printed it. But just stop and think about the implication that was being made. We were not going to rush that out there with a chance of any hooey.
But since we’re on the topic, I was very aware of the reaction the story generated. You can’t ignore phone calls and text messages and email and Twitter and all that stuff now and I happen to run a blog with a lot of traffic at times like that. I have friends who are big WVU fans and they scoured the Internet at that time to fully digest the story. A few of them would email me things that troubled them – including some stuff from the message boards in your corner of the worldwide web.
Three things bothered me then and, on some level, bother me now. First, people thought we were wrong and that a loose story would blow up in our face. Those people didn’t even consider that we’d taken considerable time and paid careful attention, or that that time and attention is standard in all the things we do. On top of that, and this is covered, I hope, in adequate detail in the book, is that WVU was on this story before I ever was.
Second, the initial story generated a very odd reaction. People were racing to take credit for the news and where and how it broke – and, fine, whatever. Who keeps score? But people were trying hard to advance the story, seemingly just to be involved, and people were freely offering up their own strong opinions without knowing what was actually happening. There were a lot of bad and dangerous moments after that first story.
And third is the role of Colin Dunlap. Without getting too much into it, because it’s also covered in the book in what is the only time Colin has discussed it with anyone, Bill Stewart was in trouble well before Colin said what he said on the radio and Colin will tell you that. Obviously it contributed to the outcome, but WVU truthfully was on this story before I ever was.
Nobody thought this would end well, but I don't think anyone thought it would go so badly so quickly.
- You provided the best, and as far as I could tell, the only plausible explanation I've seen as to what Bill Stewart possibly hoped to achieve by sabotaging Holgorsen when you suggested that maybe he thought that lightning would strike twice, that his employers would once again realize that the only guy for the job was the guy they already had. Is this anything more than pure delusion or do you think there were forces inside WVU that could have possibly been swayed in this direction?
Well, that’s my theory and apparently it’s not a popular one, but there is something to it. Again, some coaches will do anything to stay on the island.
I’m not sure he was crazy to think it, which is not to say he wasn’t crazy to actually do it. Remember, Stewart still had a lot of allies. He’d also become something of a sympathetic figure with the way Oliver Luck forced Holgorsen upon him.
It’s funny, because it wasn’t long ago, but I think people felt very differently then about how to manage people and situations than they do now. Many people didn’t like how Stewart was being treated – and remember, he was 28-12 as a head coach and people liked him personally, if not professionally. On top of that, thanks to whatever happened in that casino, Holgorsen had, at the very least, embarrassed himself and shamed the situation Luck orchestrated.
The best way I’ve found to explain the whole thing is to think of it as a prison break. You’ve got the plan, but you have to wait for the night when the clouds cover the moon and the tide is low enough to navigate the channels. When your moment comes, you go. Maybe Stewart saw his moment and pounced.
- I was surprised that the book didn't delve more into the apparently icy relationship between Holgorsen and the defensive holdovers from the Stewart/Rod era. From what (limited) sources, I have, the two barely communicated, the defensive staff didn't participate in the Man Trip, and other various uncomfortable working conditions existed in the same building. Do you have reason to believe these rumors were untrue, or was the information too late in coming out to include in the book?
There was legitimacy, so much so that the coaches’ offices are no longer set up with offensive coaches on one half of the building and defensive coaches on the other, but I think the bigger story was there were no clear signs of friction. They didn’t talk much and probably didn’t like one another, but that was in private.
Publicly, they were pretty professional about it. Even the Mantrip thing was explained away rather easily. Bill Kirelawich had bad knees. Coaches preferred to entertain recruits inside the Puskar Center. The weather was awful once or twice. David Lockwood made the trip on occasion, too.
I just didn’t feel like it was a very big deal or that it had much to do with the story. I love to barbeque. Sometimes I feel like grilling ribs. When I do, I don’t smoke a turkey, too.
- On that line of thought, is there anything that's happened since the Orange Bowl victory covered in the epilogue that you wish could've made it into the book?
Certainly the Big 12 fiasco needed further detail, but that was unexpectedly ridiculous and it was happening at a time that didn’t work too well with deadlines I had set for myself.
I’ve since come to learn and understand more about that episode than ever before and the whole process is actually very interesting and entertaining. It was a rather brief courtship that involved a few surprising characters.
And I think keeping Luck and not losing him to Stanford was a big deal. I don’t think he was close to accepting the job and I don’t even know that it was offered, but that’s something fans have grown to worry about these days. Maybe at another stage of the school’s history, the A.D. would have left and it would have fit into the pattern. This time, he stayed and kept his aim fixed at the top. That would seem to work well with how my actual epilogue went. I like it when I look smart. But again, perhaps a second edition would one day address all of that.
- I, for one, couldn't recommend your book more highly for anyone that enjoys college football in general, let alone Mountaineer football. How has the feedback been from other Mountaineer fans?
- Thanks. It never gets old hearing those words. No one’s told me they hate it. Some have said they hate me, but that’s been in a joking manner. I hope.
They didn’t like reliving all of the nightmares of the past, but they understood and some found it therapeutic. A few people said they felt redeemed and rejuvenated by the curveball I throw in the final two chapters, which makes me feel great because, seriously, the end of the season was threatening to ruin my book. Instead, I happen to think it actually made my book.
The most uplifting and, at the same time, deflating compliment I get is when someone says they read the book in one sitting. That’s flattering, of course, but also oddly frustrating because this was not written in one sitting. Not even close.
The only negative stuff I get isn’t really negative, but a number of people have said they knew a lot of what I wrote and didn’t learn a whole lot. I don’t have a counter for that, except that those people are a definitive minority, but this book wasn’t written exclusively for WVU fans. I feel strongly that a lot of people misunderstand WVU and what has happened here through the years. This seemed like a perfect time to explain it and I just hope my book did a good representing those events in a fair, accurate, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening manner.
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to answer a few questions for The Couch. You can check out Mike's blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/wvu/, his Twitter account at twitter.com/mikecasazza, and once again, if you haven't already, buy his book at Amazon by clicking here.
2012/06/18 9:36 am
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE West Virginia Legends Classic football camp CHAT ROOM**
quincy_wilsombodygetthatdeadhurricaneplz: I want to welcome everybody to the 2nd annual West Virginia Legends Classic football camp. I think this year, we're really going to make a difference with these kids.
fight4urwhite2party: Hey, great to be here.
morttyfied: I HAVE TAKEN TIME FROM HUNTING QUARTERBACK FOR FOOTBALL PHILANTHROPY
majorpayne: Yeah, can someone get this guy away from me? He was gnawing on my leg earlier.
WileyCoyote: Morty, no!
quincy_wilsombodygetthatdeadhurricaneplz: How has everyone been doing? We never get to meet like this.
wes_lyonsandtigersandbears: Well, I'm still really tall.
mullen_it_over: Saaaaaay, you ARE really tall. Has anyone ever thought to just throw a ball really high in the end zone for you to catch?
wes_lyonsandtigersandbears: Nope. No one ever thought of that.
majorpayne: I have a lot of fun at these events. Makes all these young punks remember that I was the man once upon a time.
fight4urwhite2party: Wait, you're that guy they always compared me to?
majorpayne: Yeah, but I'm sure you had a lot more success in the NFL.
quincy_wilsombodygetthatdeadhurricaneplz: Yeah, Pat, what exactly ARE you doing these days?
fight4urwhite2party: Well, I put my mind to it, and I think I'm going to pursue an acting career.
morttyfied: SAY WHAT?
fight4urwhite2party: Yeah, I'm going to try acting for a while. Get some head shots and stuff like that.
WileyCoyote: Well, I certainly approve of that career path. Check this out:
morttyfied: WHAT THE EFF WORD IS THAT?
WileyCoyote: Action shot, bro. Already scored me a role as Cowboy #3 on this summer's hottest drama, "Franklin and Bash"
morttyfied: AH, WITH ZACK MORRIS.
WileyCoyote: Yes, with Zack Morris.
quincy_wilsombodygetthatdeadhurricaneplz: So are you gonna do all that stuff, Pat?
fight4urwhite2party: Yeah, I've already got an agent with WVU football connections working out all the details as we speak.
puntazgetsl8d: dem hollywood bitches gonna muss they drawls when leading man fatty pat white rolls up in dem clubs with tha kozman makin it rain with head shots and magnum xxls
WileyCoyote: Oh lord, Pat. Did you really hire him as your agent?
fight4urwhite2party: He said he had connections to all the biggest stars. Clooney, Spielberg, Scorsese.
puntazgetsl8d: yeah all them honkeys is my boys. me and clooney fly out to milan on the regular with a bar fulla 40's and a cabin fulla shawtys yafeelme
puntazgetsl8d: hey i thought there were supposed to be kids here. i feel like educating the youth
majorpayne: Yeah right, like we're gonna let you talk to kids.
puntazgetsl8d: hey who asked you grandpa? go get me some peanut brittle and stfu before i start bustin caps up in this domicile
majorpayne: /knocks out puntazgetsl8d
fight4urwhite2party: Hey, that's my agent!
majorpayne: Let me introduce you to some folks at Milan, son.
2012/05/23 10:45 am
[Note- Segments of this post appeared in the 2011 post entitled "The Bill Stewart Era- 2008-2011". I've updated it for obvious reasons.]
On Monday afternoon, just about every Mountaineer fan around the nation either sent or received a text message conveying a message that seemed hard to believe- Former WVU Head Coach Bill Stewart passed away after collapsing suddenly while golfing at Stonewall Jackson Resort.
In this era of instant communication and social media, reactions came pouring out from seemingly every corner of the country, from former players to fellow coaches to journalists to United States Senators. Most sentiments were eerily similar. "Really, really nice guy. Molded men. Thoughts and prayers to his wife and son."
Mountaineer fans flocked to message boards like the one on this site to express their own sentiments and remembrances, and Stewart's legendary "Leave No Doubt" speech before WVU's 2007-2008 Fiesta Bowl win over #3 Oklahoma was posted and reposted again by folks who simply couldn't believe that the guy who represented the State of West Virginia like no other university coach ever before was gone so suddenly.
Bill Stewart's finest moment as WVU Head Coach made its rounds following the stunning announcement that he was gone.
And as is only human, many writers, bloggers, and message board posters wanted to find a way to put into context what Bill Stewart's legacy would be now that his own time on Earth had been cut entirely too short.
Adding to the difficulty of summarizing his time at West Virginia was the circumstances that led to his departure from the program, which, truth be told, feels like it happened a lot longer ago than it did. It feels unseemly to analyze wins and losses by a football team playing a game, or to talk the events that led to his dismissal. A man has died, and it's only human nature to want to focus on all the positive aspects of his time with us rather than dwelling on the unpleasant times.
In recent days I've read just about every piece that's come out trying to capture the essence of both Bill Stewart as a man and Bill Stewart as a football coach at West Virginia University. From articles like this one from wvillustrated.com warmly remembering time spent with Coach Stewart to this one at scout.com referring the Bill Stewart era as the bridge to the Big 12, to this one from wvmetronews.com arguing that Stew deserved better than he got from WVU when it was over, to this bizarre article from msnsportsnet.com comparing Stewart to Harry Truman.
I think it's possible to acknowledge that Bill Stewart was a really nice guy and a really good representative of both the State of West Virginia and West Virginia University without the need to lionize his time as WVU head coach and the successes and failures both on and off the field.
He wasn't perfect (and wouldn't claim to be) and wasn't the modern incarnation of Bear Bryant. He was a uniquely cheerful and kind-hearted coach in an era that seems to produce neither. He obviously had a tremendous impact on hundreds if not thousands of young men who he molded to be better citizens, scholars, husbands, fathers, friends, Christians, and Americans. His success in that regard can be found in the warm remembrances and well-wishes of his players following the news of his passing.
Stewart will be remembered more for his role in shaping lives than in molding wins and losses.
As far as on-the-field accomplishments, the Bill Stewart Era will be remembered as a period of transition for the West Virginia Mountaineer football program. Stewart possessed none of the dynamism of either his predecessor or his successor, and largely stewarded the program in an adequate, if not always satisfactory manner for WVU fans who'd grown accustomed to BCS Bowl trips during the Rich Rodriguez era. But one thing was certain- Stewart sure did love West Virginia University, the Mountaineers, and the State of West Virginia.
At the time Stewart was hired, even though everyone involved understood that he wasn't necessarily going to revolutionize any aspect of Mountaineer football, a steady hand on the tiller seemed like the right direction for the program. Some complained at the time of the hiring and even more complained after seasons that seemed lackluster compared to other recent successes. Ultimately, Stewart's 28-12 career mark included a .700 winning percentage that ranks fifth among all WVU head coaches. The desire for more success than that seemed vindicated this past January when Stewart's replacement, Dana Holgorsen, guided Stewart's players to a Big East Championship and BCS Bowl win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. (Stewart hadn't won a bowl since the 2008-2009 season.)
Off the field, Stewart graduated his players at a rate of 90%, which is exceptional in modern major college football, and was a major step up from where Rich Rodriguez left the program. Stewart understood that his "lads" were in Morgantown for more than just football, and prepared a great number of them for the life they would ultimately lead after they wore their Mountaineer jerseys for the last time.
In his 3 years as Head Coach, Stewart was a fine representative of the State of West Virginia, even while sometimes going on rants in press conferences that no one really understood. Stewart understood the importance of the program to the state in general, and also understood the pride that West Virginians have in their One True Team.
Say what you will about how he went out (we'll get to that in a bit), but we knew that being Head Coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers was just about as good of a gig as 'Ol Billy Stew could possibly imagine. WVU fans don't know yet if Dana Holgorsen has the same love of Old Gold 'N Blue deep in his heart or if his eyes start to wander at the first coaching vacancy at a Name School, but we knew with certainty where Bill Stewart's heart would always remain. When he said in his initial press conference that being Head Coach of WVU was his last job, we believed him.
Being the Head Coach of West Virginia University was Bill Stewart's dream job, and it seemed like he appreciated that fact every second of his time there.
Ultimately it was this passion for his job that led to his resignation a year before originally anticipated. While Dana Holgorsen was brought in to steer the Mountaineers in a different direction on the field after a third disappointing season, the Coach-In-Waiting succession plan was expected to work expressly BECAUSE Bill Stewart had a reputation as a high-character individual that would never put his own interests before the interests of the University.
The particulars of the events leading to Bill Stewart's eventual resignation can be found in this article from last year, but suffice it to say that in his own misguided way, it's very possible that Stewart believed he was acting in the best interest of his team, University, and state by providing information to the press that would prevent Dana Holgorsen from embarrassing the program after he eventually took over as head coach.
Maybe Stewart thought it was worth it even if he had to fall on the sword.
After news broke of his involvement in leaking damaging information about his successor to the press (and the subsequent public reaction clamoring for his head), Stewart agreed to a sizable buyout that ended his tenure as Mountaineer Head Coach. He did so in a respectable manner befitting a man who took so much pride in being a Mountaineer. While a press conference was held to anoint his successor, Stewart spoke only through a statement provided to the WVU Athletic Department:
"As I said on the day I was appointed head coach, what is best for WVU is my first priority. Today, I am doing what I believe to be in the best interest of the Mountaineer Nation."
Ultimately, Bill Stewart himself knew that his time at WVU was going to be analyzed mostly for what happened between the lines, but he judged his value by a far higher standard. As this quote from his obituary notes:
“I’m going to be judged on the wins. I know that. However, what I do with these young men’s lives, I’m being judged by the MASTER COACH. And that’s why I lay down every night and sleep very well.”
So it's possible to remember a man fondly without reconstructing history. Sure, many of us wanted more wins from our head football coach, but we also know that we can't forget that Bill Stewart set the standard for how damn proud the Head Coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers should be to hold that position.
He will be remembered for changing the lives of countless young men who, to a man, say that he made them better people.
He will be remembered as being as fine an ambassador for the State of West Virginia and West Virginia University as we will ever see.
He will be remembered for being a genuinely nice, caring, thoughtful, and gracious person and a devoted father, husband, and Christian.
And if you can say all those things about me when I shuffle off this mortal plane, I'll consider my life a success.
God bless Bill Stewart and his family. A grateful Mountaineer nation sends out its thoughts and prayers to you all.
2012/05/09 9:30 am
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE BIG EAST PRESS CONFERENCE CHAT**
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: So I said, "RECTUM? SHE DAMN NEAR KILLED HIM!" ahahahaha
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: Oh, hell. Is this thing starting?
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: OK then, umm... I'd like to thank members of the Big East media for joining us for this press conference today.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: Obviously, the Big East is in fantastic shape after my 3 years at the helm. While those assholes at Pitt, Syracuse, TCU, and WVU CAN ALL BURN IN HELL, we've got an exciting new future with 13 (COUNT EM!) 13 football playing members in fantastic locations like SUNNY SAN DIEGO and EXOTIC HOUSTON!!!
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: /waits for applause
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: Sure, under my watch, the Big East lost Pitt, Syracuse (a charter member of the conference), the only respectable football team we had (WVU) who was also a year off from making the Final 4, and a TCU team that hadn't even started playing in the Big East before they fled like a rat on a sinking ship.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: And yes, UConn, Louisville, and Cincinnati have all openly yearned to join another conference as soon as they even have a glimmer of opportunity.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: And yes, under my watch, the Big East turned down a lucrative offer for TV Rights from ESPN in an apparent attempt to play high-stakes poker even though we were holding the entertainment equivalent of a pair of 4's.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: But hey, did I mention that Navy and SMU are joining?!?!
reporter: Excuse me, but we knew all this. Why is there a press conference today?
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: Oh. I'm resigning.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: All the assets are in place right now in the Big East. It's probably time for a commercialized kind of perspective. Clearly the collegiate model is dead.
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: By the way, I actually said that last one.
reporter: Well, what are you going to do now?
thatsaspicymeat-a-ball: I plan to follow a long, proud family tradition of stepping away from a stressful situation following a period of strong leadership.
**FADE TO MONTAGE**
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE GETTYSBURG CIVIL WAR CHAT**
robert_E_lee: Nice of you to join us, General Marinatto.
general_augustus_marinatto: No problem, hoss. Where do you need me and my boys?
robert_E_lee: Wait, where is your regiment?
general_augustus_marinatto: We had a few desertions. But it's cool. I grabbed a couple of mules and a box of cigars to replace them.
robert_E_lee: DEAR GOD, MAN. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO CHARGE WITH PICKETT TOMORROW AND YOU DON'T HAVE ANY MEN!!
general_augustus_marinatto: I'm starting to sense some pressure here that you aren't happy with my leadership.
general_augustus_marinatto: Okeedokee then, I see my work here is done.
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE CHAT OF THE NORTH ATLANTIC**
uss_titanic_crew_members: CAPTAIN! THERE'S AN ICEBERG STRAIGHT AHEAD!
captainmeatball: Uhhhh, I guess steer... left?
uss_titanic: /strikes iceberg
uss_titanic_crew_members: SHE'S GOING DOWN, CAPTAIN! WE'VE GOT TO ABANDON SHIP!
captainmeatball: Nah, it's cool. Just get on the horn and get some guys to patch it up. It'll be good as new.
captainmeatball: Yeah, they need to bring on someone that knows how to avoid icebergs. Clearly, the maritime model is dead.
**YOU HAVE ENTERED THE 1980s UKRAINE CHAT**
comrade_marinatto: I tell you what, there is nothing like a good nap from 1-3 in the afternoon.
comrade_marinatto: Ok. That's probably bad.
comrade_marinatto: Well, folks, I'm going to be resigning from my position here, as this job has suddenly gotten too stressful for me.
comrade_marinatto: Since it's 1986, fortunately the collegiate model isn't dead. But everyone within 100 square miles of this place probably will be.
comrade_marinatto: Do svidaniya!
2012/03/05 6:43 pm
I am biased.
Make no mistake- Kevin Jones is my favorite WVU basketball player of all time. I love his game, the way he carries himself on the court, the way he interacts with his teammates and WVU fans, his humility, and his tenacity.
Tonight, word leaked out that my favorite player will not win the Big East Player of the Year Award, finishing second to Jae Crowder of Marquette, and as you may imagine, I have a few things to say about that.
First, lest you write off this rant as the baseless complaints of a wronged fanboy, let me give you some numbers:
That's the number of players in the history of the Big East conference to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding, after Kevin Jones did it this season. The other two were Notre Dame's Troy Murphy (2000 and 2001) and Luke Harangody (2008)
Both Murphy and Harangody won Big East Player of the Year.
That's the number of players in the nation that averaged a 20/10 this year- Kevin Jones.
WVU couldn't have asked more of him, and he couldn't have given more in return.
- 20 vs. 17.6
That's the scoring averages of Kevin Jones and Jae Crowder, respectively.
Fun fact- the closer comparison is to Crowder's teammate, Darius Johnson-Odom who averages 18.3 ppg.
That's right, boys and girls. Jae Crowder DOESN'T EVEN LEAD HIS OWN TEAM IN SCORING. Well, he's dominant in other categories then, right?
- 11.2 vs. 7.9
That's their rebounding averages. Jones is 3rd in the nation in offensive rebounds and is almost exclusively responsible for the fact that WVU's most effective offense is usually a missed shot. (I covered that extensively in this article from last week.)
To his credit, Crowder averaged more steals (and finished 7th in the nation in that statistic), but he also averaged more fouls. Nearly every other statistical comparison of the two is insignificant. Crowder averaged a little over half of an assist more per game than KJ, and KJ shot 3% better from the field and had a few more blocks.
- 28% vs. 23%
Kevin Jones scores 20 ppg for a team that scores 72 ppg. (28%) Crowder scores 17.6 ppg for a team that scores 76 ppg. (23%)
So with a team that averages fewer possessions per 40 minutes (66.7 to 70.1), Kevin Jones scores more by over 2 full points.
- 18th and 5th
- 53rd and 79th
That's the national ranking of points per game and rebounds per game of Kevin Jones and Jae Crowder, respectively.
One could conceivably be a NATIONAL player of the year candidate. The other would be laughable.
In fact, one player is a finalist for the Wooden Award, given to the nation's best player, and the other hasn't been considered for it all season.
Keep in mind that these votes come from national media members and not that of anyone in the Big East.
"I'M JUST GETTIN' WARMED UP!"
Obviously, basketball is not a game that can be entirely analyzed by statistics and there is a need to take into account concepts like attitude, leadership, work ethic, etc.
And I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on these intangibles with Jae Crowder. I haven't watched enough Marquette games to have an opinion one way or the other.
But I can tell you that it's not remotely possible that any player in the NATION brought more to the table from an intangibles standpoint than Kevin Jones did this year. The Mountaineers' best player doubled as Big East Babysitter of the Year as WVU shepherded a whopping SEVEN true freshman through a season that saw them finish 8th in the conference.
Every freshman mistake was met with a pat on the back and an encouraging word from the senior who led by example, both in practice and in games.
Bob Huggins noted in several recent interviews that he believes WVU would've had a hard time winning even one game this season without Kevin Jones' efforts both on and off the court.
Work ethic? How about this anecdote from Bob Huggins in an AP article:
Kevin Jones’ blue-collar work ethic made an early, lasting impression on West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
You think that's the sort of thing that rubs off on teammates?
No team asked more of a player than WVU asked of Jones this season, either. Jones was 7th in the nation in minutes per game for several reasons:
1) He had no real backups available after Pat Forsythe and Kevin Noreen went down with season-ending injuries,
2) Without his rebounding and interior defense, WVU would be eaten alive inside, and
3) Coach Huggins couldn't trust the freshmen on the team to make any in-game adjustments without Jones and Truck Bryant on the floor.
And on top of all this, Kevin Jones carries himself with more class and exhibits more sportsmanship than any basketball player I've ever seen at ANY level. (Seriously- do a Google Images search of "Kevin Jones WVU" and count how many pictures feature him smiling.)
Just one of many images you'll find of Kevin Jones playing basketball the way it's meant to be played.
He never has a moment where his emotions get the better of him on the court. Never gets a technical foul. Never makes an embarrassing statement to the press after a game. Never had a single off-court incident worth any mention.
He's the model student-athlete in all of collegiate athletics, and West Virginia Mountaineer fans should be and are extraordinarily proud that he's represented our university for four years.
Which leads us again to the question...
How in the hell is he not Player of the Year in a conference he dominated?
Argument- Marquette finished 2nd in the Big East and won 13 of its last 15 games, while WVU finished 8th and lost seven of its final 11, so Crowder deserves the award.
This is a team award now? I thought they gave out a different trophy for that. If the award is for best teammates, I would say that this year, Crowder probably wins in a walk.
Obviously team success has some component of being a player of the year, as you wouldn't want to award some guy that was just grabbing stats on a bad team. (A guy who Kenny Smith on TNT refers to as a "looter in a riot.")
But WVU is an NCAA Tournament Team with SEVEN FRESHMEN (six true freshmen) playing significant minutes this season. The leading scorer in that bunch gets less than 8 points per game, and the leading rebounder among them is a point guard.
Kevin Jones' second-best teammate is a shoot-first, turnover-challenged point guard that shot a ghastly 37% from the field for the season.
And just to refresh your memory if you're wondering who Crowder's second banana is, please remember that Jae Crowder DOESN'T EVEN LEAD HIS OWN TEAM IN SCORING. Darius Johnson-Odom does at 18.3 ppg.
And his team's success is more attributable to him than Jones' is to his? Get the eff-word out of here. Let's boil this down to what it's REALLY about...
I suppose Mountaineer fans never should have believed that Kevin Jones ever even had a realistic chance of winning this award, no matter how superior his measurable statistics were to any other player. (In a way, I'm a little ashamed that I allowed myself to believe that I didn't see the inevitability of the shaft he was going to receive.)
WVU fans recieved an indication that Jones was probably going to get screwed as early as late Saturday, as word leaked that Jones was not a unanimous All-Big East First Team selection, meaning that some coach left him off the ballot entirely.
(Put another way- there's a coach in the Big East that either thinks that Kevin Jones wasn't one of the best TWO forwards in the Big East this year, or has a Paul Bunyon-sized axe to grind against Huggins/WVU.)
Just ask WVU quarterback Geno Smith about fair play in Big East postseason awards this year. Smith lost the Big East Offensive Player of the Year award despite having 1,700 (!) more yards passing than any other QB in the Big East, 9 more touchdowns, the fewest interceptions of any full-season starter, all while leading the conference's BCS representative.
(The winner of that award, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead had a solid season, rushing for 1259 yards and 12 TD's, but only led the league in rushing by 100 yards. Statistically speaking, he wasn't that much more valuable than Lyle McCombs of UConn. Who? Exactly.)
So with two measurably superior seasons by West Virginia University athletes being passed by their own in-conference voting mechanisms, whatever outside influence could there be that might be weighing on these decisions???
Do you think that it could be possible that Big East members are holding a grudge because West Virginia University and the Big East have been involved in a nasty divorce over the last 8 months that led to WVU paying a 20 million dollar buyout to leave the Big East to join the Big 12 next season?
Until I hear an intelligent reason why anyone in the Big East would give the Player of the Year Award to Crowder over Jones, I don't see any other rational explanation.
The butt-hurt Big East rewards a guy who didn't score, rebound, or defend as much and was less important to his team, just like they did in football with Geno Smith. But hey, it's good to see that the Big East is rewarding loyal, storied programs like Cincinnati football and Marquette basketball with trophies that belong to WVU players.
For four years, Kevin Jones has worn a patch on his jersey bearing the Big East's logo, and for four years, he's poured his heart out and represented the league with nothing less than the utmost in ability, effort, class, and dignity. And in this, his crowning season, a season that is statistically historic in the annals of the storied Big East, the Big East is settling a political vendetta by passing him over for recognition.
As Bob Huggins noted on his Twitter page, it's tough to accept that some things you can't control:
The older I get the more I realize the only thing you can control is your attitude. Our team is really disappointed for KJ but we plan on controlling our attitude and having a great attitude towards this Big East Tournament.
A very diplomatic response by Huggs, demonstrating that he and Kevin Jones are classier than the league they're associated with these days.
Ultimately, I realize that this award isn't THAT big of a deal to most of the American sports-loving public. (Do you know who won last year? If you said Ben Hansbrough, you have a better memory than I do. It's worth noting that many at the time argued that UConn's Kemba Walker deserved the award- also having a statistically superior season to the ultimate winner- while it was given to Hansbrough, presumably because he, like Crowder, was a member of a team that finished higher in the Big East standings than Walker's Huskies. So maybe it really is only about the team.)
But when you've got a guy that does EVERYTHING for his team both in terms of on-court production, leadership, intangibles, etc., and he gets passed over for a guy that didn't have nearly the measurable impact on his team (in fact, not even leading that team in the most important statistic in basketball), something is horribly, horribly wrong with the process.
As I said at the outset, I know I'm biased.
But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.
[NEXT DAY EDIT: Coach Huggins weighs in:]