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WVU football: After bowl loss, more issues have developed

By Jack Bogaczyk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the days following West Virginia's somnambulate performance in the Champs Sports Bowl, the only Mountaineer distraction from football is an 0-2 Big East start by Coach Bob Huggins' basketball team.

You have to kind of wonder - considering a Final Four trip in 2009-10 and the great football future expectations fueled even more by an aggressive rookie athletic director - whether or not oft-unrealistic WVU fans are anticipating another deep NCAA Tournament run.

Well, Huggins' 2010-11 team has produced a rarity.

In the veteran coach's 26 seasons as a major college head coach, this is only the third time one of his teams has started 0-2 in league play (and that's spread over six conference affiliations). The others were in his rookie Division I year at Akron (1984-85) in the Ohio Valley Conference, and in his single season at Kansas State (2006-07) in the Big 12.

I think Huggs' fourth WVU team still can reach the Big Bracket (thanks much to the quality schedule it plays; it was No. 1 in RPI strength of schedule Sunday), but if these Mountaineers also get anywhere close to the 24 wins he's averaging per season, it might be his finest coaching job.

However, the men's hoops issues are miniscule compared to WVU football at this point.

First-year Mountaineer AD Oliver Luck went with a coach-in-waiting arrangement because he wanted to hire Dana Holgorsen. Fine. If Luck wanted to fire Bill Stewart immediately rather than eventually, he should have done it, bowl bid aside.

And if Luck were prevented from canning Stewart then or even now, then someone at WVU is running the athletic department who shouldn't be. That's Luck's job. That's why he was hired. It's his call ... or should be.

I can tell you this with certainty: A lot of people in the WVU athletic department are walking on eggshells, wondering if they'll be the next to go as Luck continues to evaluate the staff, which already has gotten several dismissals on a lower profile than football.

Who will be WVU's "real" head coach in 2011? Well, that answer is simple.

Unless Stewart is paid to leave now or finds another job and walks (don't expect that), the man running WVU football next season will be ... Luck.

Who decides whom to recruit? Stewart? Holgorsen? If it's a defensive player, is it coordinator Jeff Casteel? If Holgorsen tries to tell one of the defensive coaches how he's going to want something done - picture grizzled, gruff line coach Bill Kirelawich here - does the new guy get an earful?

Speaking of recruiting, who's in charge? Coordinator Chris Beatty was just told to clean out his desk, and the new recruiting coordinator, whoever, will be WVU's fifth in six years (2006-11, Herb Hand, Tony Gibson, Doc Holliday, Beatty and the new man).

Stewart obviously won't be calling offensive plays. Luck has made it clear the defense is Casteel's to run - as it has been, and with great results.

So, what does Stewart do next season? Is he the good cop with the players, or the bad cop? If WVU turns it over five times and loses at Maryland, is that on Stewart's leadership or Holgorsen's offense?

Luck played funny with the facts when he held a news conference on his decision to keep Stewart for 2011 and have Holgorsen in the on-deck circle. The AD said WVU was using a coach-in-waiting plan that worked well at Wisconsin and Oregon - two impressive programs, to say the least.

However, at those current BCS players, the AD/head coach was putting his own successor in place. Luck told Stewart who was replacing the coach, and when.

Stewart didn't help himself at all when his team played on "empty" in the bowl - and helped himself and his team even less with limited practice time, and canceled workouts.

His pre-game assertion that his players "worked like mine mules" in preparation is such an insult to animals that perhaps PETA should come calling.

The WVU football program also has incensed the media corps that regularly covers the Mountaineers, by choosing - whomever spilled the beans - to reveal Geno Smith's season-long need for more surgery on ESPN on game night.

That falls into Stewart's lap, too. It's still his program. Then, he was duplicitous with some of those same media members when first asked about Holgorsen and his knowledge of Luck's desire to hire the new coach when first asked about it, too.

Maybe Luck handled this hot potato in fumbling fashion, but the WVU coach has done little to help himself throughout this matter, too.

What has been created here is a situation in which a quality football program and team - and one of only four major programs with at least nine wins in each of the last six years - has been distracted for about a month.

If left as is, it's going to be 13 months of that.

The Mountaineers already will pay $850,000 to buy out the 2011 seasons of four offensive assistant coaches. They need to dig deeper and find a way out of this stew with Stew.

Luck can be confusing. One minute he says WVU is going to play for national championships, and in the next breath he's telling his constituents that the road to future Big East championships is going to go through Fort Worth, Texas (and the new Rose Bowl champion Horned Frogs).

Just how this Stewart-Holgorsen situation is going to work is more than confusing. It's awkward at the very least. I can tell you how it's going to work ... it isn't, no matter how professional everyone acts it out. And a lot of it will be an act, if it comes off.

To paraphrase the old Fram oil filter commercials, WVU can pay Stewart now or it can pay him later.

It seems time to take a step ahead and play the way Holgorsen wants to play - fast - if Luck wants WVU football to be as good as it can be as soon as it can be.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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