Former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart died Monday from an apparent heart attack, according to the university.
He was reportedly playing golf with former athletic director Ed Pastilong on a course in Roanoke, W.Va. He was 59.
Stewart resigned as coach of the Mountaineers last June amid strife with the athletic department over the hiring of Dana Holgorsen as a coach-in-waiting. But he was remembered Monday for his decade-long career as a Mountaineer and the hundreds of players he impacted with his old school brand of coaching football.
"He was a West Virginia guy; he knew what it was about to be a Mountaineer," said offensive lineman Don Barclay who played for Stewart for three years and is now with the Green Bay Packers. "He brought the whole team together when things were bad. Everyone kind of fed off of him."
Stewart was named head coach at West Virginia after the departure of Rich Rodriguez to Michigan.
Then, while still holding the title of interim coach, he led the team to a rousing 48-28 win against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl where he delivered a famous pregame speech in the locker room referred to as "Leave no doubt."
An excerpt: "We are going to out-strain and out-hit these guys. Let 'em know. Leave no doubt tonight. Leave no doubt tonight. No doubt. They shouldn't have played the old Gold and Blue. Not this night. Not this night. Don't leave your wingman. Ever, ever, ever bail out on your brother. You help, you strain, and you just fight."
Players said the interim term set the tone for his tenure as head coach.
"He did an excellent job, especially during that whole bowl week," said former defensive lineman Julian Miller who was a redshirt that year. "He brought the team together during a time when guys weren't sure how things were going. To see how that team responded to him, to go out and beat Oklahoma was pretty impressive."
Miller said his first impression of Stewart came his first year in the program when he was on the scout team.
Stewart, he said, proclaimed watching him one day: "You know that guy right there? That guy Julian Miller is going to be good one day," recalled Miller. "I'll never forget him saying that."
As news of Stewart's passing traveled late Monday afternoon, dozens of former players left messages of condolences on Twitter.
Former coach Don Nehlen, when reached, said he was sick over the passing of one of his best friends and referred to the following statement to express his condolences:
"I'm very saddened," Nehlen said. "I hired Bill in my last year when I was close to retiring. Bill was such a great Mountaineer and a great addition to our staff. It was a terrific hire -- he did a great job not only for me, but for Rich and as a head coach. Bill was such a great husband and a great father. Bill Stewart was a great Mountaineer."
West Virginia president Jim Clements, athletic director Oliver Luck and Holgorsen all also released statements expressing condolences along with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Clements said: "Mountaineer nation is truly saddened today to learn of the untimely passing of coach Bill Stewart. Our hearts go out to the Stewart family and Bill's many friends. He loved his family dearly and was extremely community-oriented and very giving of his time. He will be greatly missed."
Luck said: "Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer. His enthusiasm and passion for his state's flagship university was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing."
And Holgorsen added: "Like all of us in the West Virginia community, I am shocked and saddened by the passing of coach Stewart. The state of West Virginia, our university and our football program has lost a true Mountaineer who gave his native state university a decade of coaching service and a lifetime of guidance and inspiration to thousands of young men over a 33-year career."
Stewart made his way to West Virginia's staff in 2000, after a three-year career at Virginia Military Institute.
In three years, Stewart compiled a 28-12 record. His team lost in the Gator Bowl in 2009 against Bobby Bowden's Florida State, then lost to North Carolina State in the Champs Sports Bowl in '10. His teams finished second in the Big East in '08 and '09, then tied for first place in '10. His career ended when he resigned under pressure June 10, 2011, at the end of a tumultuous offseason.
News reports had surfaced that Holgorsen was removed from a casino because of unruly behavior. Holgorsen publicly apologized, but more news reports followed, alleging he was involved in previous incidents. West Virginia officials started an investigation to determine if anyone within the program had leaked negative information about Holgorsen.
Shortly after that Colin Dunlap, a former reporter for the Post-Gazette who covered the team, said on radio station 93.7 The Fan that Stewart had asked him "and at least one other reporter" in December 2010 to dig up "dirt" on Holgorsen. Dunlap was no longer a Post-Gazette employee when he reported Stewart's actions.
Ultimately, Luck declined to reveal the findings of the department's investigation, but acknowledged its impact.
Players say that never took away from the man they looked up to as a coach.
"What happened with the whole coaching situation that doesn't define coach Stewart," Barclay said. "He was a great coach. He did a lot of great things at West Virginia."
Arrangements were not yet available.wvusports
First Published May 22, 2012 4:15 AM