Honeymoon was short for West Virginia's Stewart

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Criticism cuts deep.

So deep for a major college football coach it can make it tough to find a dinner companion.

Just ask West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, who recalls a week in September 2008 when he -- three games after being installed as the full-time coach of the Mountaineers -- was seen as a social outcast for losing a few football games.

"I was 1-2 here at one time when I first started this gig out, and only two people would be seen eating with me in public," Stewart said. "One was [prominent Mountaineers booster] Mr. Mike Puskar, the other was the athletic director, Eddie Pastilong. I couldn't get anyone else to be seen with me in public but those two men. I've never forgotten that."

WVU at a glance

Game: West Virginia (4-1, 0-0 Big East Conference) vs. South Florida (3-2, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. today, Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va. West Virginia is favored by 10 1/2 points.

TV, radio, Internet: ESPN; WBGG-AM (970); MSNSportsNet.com.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers' defense is seventh in points per game (13.6), ninth in rushing yards per game (86.8) and eighth in total defense (254.6 yards per game). ... Geno Smith leads Big East quarterbacks with a 66.4 completion percentage. ... Freshman Jeremy Johnson, the No. 3 quarterback, has left the team permanently for personal reasons.

South Florida: Uses two running backs, sophomore Demetris Murray (63.3 yards per game) and senior Moise Plancher (57.8 ypg). ... Next-to-last in Big East in total offense (337.2 yards per game).

Of note: West Virginia is 17-2 in home night games since 2000.

Since a loss to Colorado in Stewart's third game made his record 1-2, he has a 23-9 record, including a 4-1 mark this season, as the Mountaineers head into their Big East Conference opener at home tonight against South Florida (3-2).

But Stewart learned in 2008 that honeymoons do not last, even when you replace a coach the fan base largely viewed as a traitor (Rich Rodriguez) and even when, as interim coach, you lead the team to, arguably, its biggest bowl victory, 48-28 against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

Which raises some questions: Is there a definitive time frame for the honeymoon to end? And when and how much criticism is fair to a coach in the early stages of his career at a given school?

When Stewart looks across the field tonight, he can see a bit of what he went through in South Florida coach Skip Holtz, who is in his first season with the Bulls and formerly was coach at Connecticut and East Carolina, where he was successful. A home loss last week against Syracuse has the Bulls' fans grumbling a little.

"Fair or not, it is going to happen," Holtz said of criticism in his first season in Tampa. "Is it fair? I don't know. I look at things different than probably the media does or from an outside standpoint because I see so much of the improvement and not just the result."

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone has orchestrated a positive change for the Orange since taking over before last season. This year, he is 4-1. The Orange was 4-8 in his first season.

Going 8-9 in his first 17 games does not seem like a stellar record, but, considering Syracuse was 10-37 in the four seasons before Marrone arrived, his start is extraordinary.

The Orange had fallen to the bottom of the Big East and shaped up as a major reclamation project, but Marrone was ready to tackle criticism from the time accepted the job.

"I always think of it as the day you take the job, then it is open game," Marrone said. "I don't think there is what people call a 'honeymoon.' Or, a coach has any kind of 'pass.' I don't know how anyone takes a job thinking that. I think you take a job and you try to win as quickly as you can ... you have to show improvement and do all the right things, and it is open game [from the first day]."

One could argue that Greg Schiano's rebuilding project at Rutgers was, perhaps, the most difficult in Big East football history. Before Schiano was hired, Terry Shea went 11-44 from 1996-2000, and, after two bumpy seasons when the Scarlet Knights did not win a conference game, he started building. Since then, Rutgers has been to five consecutive bowl games and won at least eight games the past four seasons.

"Every takeover job is different," Schiano said. "This one was an extreme. And the reality is, when we got here, Division I-AA schools were out-recruiting Rutgers. So, when we got here, we had a lot of I-AA players. That's nothing personal; that's what it was.

"I know one thing, it is hard, especially if you come from somewhere where you are used to winning. It really tests your resolve and your faith."

Taking over a program can test more, including one's ability to find a dinner companion.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com . First Published October 14, 2010 4:00 AM


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