SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bill Stewart talked about being a devout West Virginian and Christian and father and coach, maybe even close to that order. He talked about hugging and stopping to smell the roses and the "first cabin" players, assistants and staff around the Mountaineers, which might explain the Fiesta Bowl triumph and the fact he was standing before a crowd of fans and administrators at an introductory news conference yesterday.
The more he talked, the less the new head coach seemed to sound like ... the old one, Rich Rodriguez, who went to Michigan.
First of all, he doesn't like agents, hence the 10 minutes of negotiation with athletic director Ed Pastilong on the five-year, $4 million -- equal to the buyout Rodriguez is contesting -- with incentives as part of a term sheet Stewart has yet to sign.
"I don't have a lot of experience in these negotiations and things. That's my agent right down there," he said, pointing to his wife, Karen.
Secondly, he won't go anywhere else.
"This is my final job, bar none," he added. "And if I'm not getting it done, they won't have to tell me, I'll tell them."
So began the first day of the Stewart era, with 150 or so fans standing and applauding inside a ballroom at the team hotel, barely nine hours after the Mountaineers' unexpected triumph against No. 3 Oklahoma, 48-28.
The announcement ended not only an 18-day search for a replacement for Rodriguez, but it ended a long night of emotion and celebration in which the search committee reached its final decision.
"I've been interviewing, I'd say, a couple of weeks," said Stewart, 55, casting a glance at Pastilong, who made the final decision in a brief meeting with fellow West Virginia administrators at the team hotel after midnight.
Pastilong, president Mike Garrison, chief of staff Craig Walker and assistant athletic director Mike Parsons got Board of Governors chairman Stephen Goodwin and decided they had seen enough of the associate head coach, tight ends coach and special teams coach who spent the previous two weeks as the interim head coach.
"The decision was made by what I like to term a group of wise men," Stewart joked. "I felt in my heart they would make the right decision for [West Virginia]. I just happened to be the lucky guy."
Stewart had been a lifer of an assistant, having toiled at Sistersville (W.Va.) High, Salem (W.Va.) College, North Carolina, Air Force, Marshall, William & Mary, Navy, Arizona State, Montreal and Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League and Air Force again before Don Nehlen -- whom he vows will have a more active role around the program -- brought this New Martinsville, W.Va., native home to coach in 2000.
Rodriguez kept Stewart when he arrived a year later, and Stewart coached quarterbacks, special teams and, this season, tight ends in addition to his new duties as associate head coach.
He has been a head coach once before, going 8-25 at Virginia Military Institute in 1994-96, before leaving there in a cloud of controversy.
Stewart was accused in '96 of calling a Keydets player a racial slur in an October practice. The coaches and players cleared the air, many said afterward, but a school investigation resulted in Stewart's resignation.
One newspaper account at the time quoted a former graduate assistant, then at Memphis, who said that he never heard Stewart utter a racial slur -- that coach is Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
"Stew was a very volatile guy," Tomlin told the Daily Press of Newport News, Va. "He was high-strung. It wasn't out of the ordinary for him to get upset or excited at practice. But this caught me off guard. He was more than fair to me. He took care of me. He hired me to coach his receivers when I had no coaching experience."
Yesterday, Tomlin had nothing but praise for Stewart:
"First of all, I'm happy for him. He's a West Virginia guy through and through; I know what this opportunity means to him. But I'm also happy for West Virginia because knowing Bill, I know what kind of guy he is, know what kind of football coach he is. I'm happy for all parties involved.
"I was there with him [at VMI]. The success that he had there didn't necessarily show up in the wins and losses column. He inspires young men, he motivates young men, he's highly motivated, he's a leader. That's what they're getting."
Quarterback Patrick White, who is black, stumped for Stewart on the postgame stage broadcast live on Fox television, as have Steve Slaton and Eric Wicks.
"It was very, very special," Stewart said of the players' endorsement.
First Published January 4, 2008 5:00 AM