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Stewart, WVU have severed ties

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bill Stewart is out as West Virginia's football coach.

A person close to the situation told the Charleston Daily Mail Friday Stewart and the university reached an agreement in the afternoon to sever their relationship. A formal announcement confirming Stewart's resignation is imminent.

Dana Holgorsen, hired in December to replace Stewart following the 2011 season, will likely be promoted to head coach immediately. He'd also be bumped to a prorated salary of $1.4 million, according to the conditions of the contract he signed Dec. 14. His salary will increase by $250,000 every year for the rest of his six-year contract.

The Daily Mail reported Monday WVU was looking at members of the football staff and program, as well as athletically affiliated organizations, to see who had fabricated stories about Holgorsen and attempted to compromise the coaching transition.

Stewart was said to be included in the inquiry, but not the sole target.

For the first time, WVU met with Stewart and his legal counsel to finalize a settlement plan Friday. Stewart was represented by Morgantown attorney Michael Benninger, of the law firm of Wilson, Frame, Benninger & Metheney.

Stewart had been represented in recent contract dealings by David Hendrickson, of the Charleston law office of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott, but their association ended suddenly and for still unknown reasons.

Hendrickson, who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from WVU and is the chairman of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, did not return phone and email messages.

Stewart, who turns 59 Saturday, will receive a buyout from the university and one likely larger than what is defined by the modified employment agreement he signed Nov. 17 and had Hendrickson amend Dec. 7.

Stewart, a native of New Martinsville who played for WVU's freshman team in 1970 before transferring to Fairmont State, was 28-12 at WVU, including 2-2 in bowl games. He returned to WVU as an assistant coach in 2000 and worked one season under former Coach Don Nehlen and was retained the following season when Rich Rodriguez succeeded Nehlen.

When Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan in mid-December 2007, Stewart was installed as the interim head coach as the Mountaineers prepared for the Fiesta Bowl. Despite never interviewing for job, Stewart led ninth-ranked WVU past fourth-ranked Oklahoma, 48-28.

He was named head coach early the next morning.

The Mountaineers never reached the same heights under Stewart, though. When first-year Athletic Director Oliver Luck made the pending coaching change in December, he said he didn't believe Stewart could win a national title and sliding season ticket sales and a tame product on the field were discouraging.

Stewart's first team was ranked No. 8 in the preseason poll in 2008 and was unranked after three games. Stewart's Mountaineers were never ranked as high again.

Stewart's teams were ranked only 15 more weeks and never better than No. 18. WVU was ranked 46 consecutive weeks from Oct. 9, 2005 to Oct. 28, 2008, the poll following Stewart's third game.

This past season, WVU wasn't ranked in the final Associated Press poll for the first time since 2004.

Stewart's program was also accused of major NCAA violations by the NCAA last August. The case is still not resolved, but the most notable charge against Stewart was his failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

Only four days after announcing the NCAA's allegations, WVU was forced to self-report a secondary violation for allowing players to wear prohibited protective equipment during the first two days of preseason practice.

WVU finished the season 9-4 for the third straight year. In consecutive weeks, the Mountaineers lost to Syracuse for the first time since 2001 and for the first time in program history to Connecticut.

Stewart was told he was to be replaced four days after the team's victory in the following game against Cincinnati. Luck allowed for the possibility Stewart could be retained for just the 2011 season, and that was granted when Stewart then won three more games to end the regular season.

Stewart and Luck met with Holgorsen days after the end of the regular season. Stewart was told by Luck to inform then-offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and then-offensive line coach Dave Johnson they'd be fired after the bowl and replaced by Holgorsen's picks. Stewart never did.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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