Friends, colleagues admire Coach Stewart's dedication
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Friends, former players and colleagues frequently mentioned Bill Stewart's heart Monday, but not because of the massive attack that took his life suddenly at the age of 59.
"He gave his heart to the Mountaineers," said Don Nehlen, a former West Virginia University football coach. "This absolutely makes me sick, just absolutely sick. I just can't believe it."
Stewart died Monday afternoon after suffering the attack during a round of golf at Stonewall Jackson Resort, where he was participating in an annual charity event with the West Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association.
WVU confirmed Stewart's passing with a brief statement at 3:18 p.m.
The New Martinsville native was an assistant coach for the Mountaineers from 2000-07 and elevated to head coach from 2008-10. He compiled a 28-12 record - including the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma when he was the interim coach - over three-plus seasons at West Virginia.
He resigned last June and the Dana Holgorsen era commenced.
Stewart succeeded Rich Rodriguez, who had retained Stewart as an assistant when Nehlen retired following the 2000 season.
"I knew Bill for a long, long time with him living in New Martinsville and having such a great love for the Mountaineers," said Nehlen, who coached WVU from 1980-2000. "I knew he was down on his luck and he was up there coaching in Canada. I knew he didn't want to live there or coach up there and I hired him.
"This is just so sad. He was such a good person."
Stewart accepted the interim tag when Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan after the 2007 regular season.
Stewart coached quarterbacks and rose to associate head coach during Rodriguez's seven seasons in Morgantown.
"It's a sad day for the state of West Virginia and a sad day for the Mountaineer football program," Rodriguez said from Arizona, where he is in his first season as the Wildcats' head coach. "It's especially sad for Bill's many friends, family and former players.
"Everybody enjoyed working at West Virginia and enjoyed working together, but I don't think anybody enjoyed it more than Bill.
"It was just infectious and it rubbed off on everybody there, whether it was with the recruits, families, players, fans or the other coaches."
Rodriguez's staff at Arizona includes former WVU assistants Calvin Magee, Rod Smith, Jeff Casteel, Tony Dews, Tony Gibson, Bill Kirelawich and David Lockwood, all of who worked alongside or for Stewart.
"We have a lot of people here who were close to Bill," Rodriguez said. "It's a very sad day for a lot of people."
Word of Stewart's passing reached College Station, where former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder is working as the defensive coordinator for Texas A&M.
Stewart defeated Snyder in consecutive Friends of Coal Bowl matchups in 2008 and 2009.
"I really liked Bill a lot," Snyder said. "I thought he was a stand-up guy. I know he loved the university and he was always good to me and my family.
"We ran into each other recruiting and he hired Steve Dunlap away from me.
"This is devastating news and, really, a little frightening."
Others within the Mountaineer athletics family reacted to Stewart's death through statements or social network platforms like Twitter:
West Virginia President Jim Clements - "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 was a compassionate, energetic, and kind person. He loved his family dearly and was extremely community-oriented and very giving of his time. He will be greatly missed."
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck - "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."
Mountaineers football Coach Dana Holgorsen - "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. Though Coach Stewart achieved many great milestones on the field, we will most remember his kindness and compassion."
Former WVU running back Steve Slaton tweeted, "Damn such a great man a true gentlemen in every sense. I'm honored to have had him as a coach in my career prayers are with his family."
Slaton shared the backfield with Owen Schmitt, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Schmitt tweeted, "Coach Stew changed my life he will me (sic) missed and remember always in my heart thanks for always believing in me I feel like a (sic) lost a father."
On Facebook, fans and former players shared a YouTube video of Stewart's emotionally charged pre-game speech made in the locker room before West Virginia defeated Oklahoma, 48-28, to win the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, 2008.
The "Leave no doubt" speech included Stewart shouting "It's Mountaineer pride ... from the heart."
Stewart resigned June 11, 2011. He leaves behind his wife, Karen, and son, Blaine.
Stewart would have turned 60 on June 6.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.