With his fate at WVU finally decided, Stewart deflected any talk of distractions for his 2010 team, despite the fact that all of the attention around the football program the past week has been on the coaching situation, and not the Champs Sports Bowl with N.C. State, which is now just one week away. Stewart, perhaps disingenuously, said that he hadn't seen any signs of attention deficits as his team has resumed practice.
"I really haven't seen any distractions, and I can honestly say that with great pride," Stewart said with his typically upbeat manner. "Young people are resilient, and they follow the lead of their head coach, the coaching staff and the seniors. I can honestly tell you that there has not been one distraction that I've seen. We've worked hard, and we've worked fast. We've practiced very, very well. I'm really pleased with that. I compliment the Mountaineer football team and the way they've been working."
Observers behind the scenes indicate that Stewart has put on the same brave face out of the public eye, maintaining a positive outlook with his coaching staff and team. It's the same approach he used to heal the wounds caused by Rich Rodriguez' bailout prior to the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, and it's one that he's counting on to work in the same manner. Although the circumstances are certainly different, he's hoping that the results will be the same – a bowl win and a successful sendoff for his seniors. Whether or not that included instructions to players in unknown, but several declined to comment on the coaching situation during interviews. One that did was safety Robert Sands, who has also been dealing with the considerations of declaring for the NFL draft.
"There have been distractions, but I don't think they were distractions that we couldn't handle," he observed. "We have a bunch of upperclassmen that are getting ready to graduate that were in a similar situation a few years ago. They have helped and prepared the underclassmen like me to get ready for some of the changes that are getting ready to take place. They have helped us stay focused on the task at hand, which is beating NC State in the bowl game."
Stewart is being careful not to make any waves or say anything that would upset the deal that's currently in place – one that will keep him on board for next year and then move him into a position somewhere with the University in 2012. Anything ripples he caused could put that deal in jeopardy, so he's not likely to do so.
"I've taken my marching orders, and we're going to go finish this thing this year," was as far as he would go in addressing the coaching changes. "We'll talk about the 2011 season when it is upon us. I don't want to get our guys sidetracked. It is what it is. We'll prepare for this bowl as best we can, and after that we'll prepare for the future. I see a very exciting 2011 season, and I mean that. Before we talk about 2011, I need to focus on 2010. How do we finish? That's what I've asked the team. How will you be remembered? That's the most important thing to this football team right now – we want to finish."
Stewart didn't reveal the particulars of his approach to the Fiesta Bowl, nor or any preparation secrets for this year's clash with the Wolfpack. In general, he noted that getting the team to work hard, and accomplish its goals in short, crisp practices, has been his goal for every bowl. He has noted that he believes some Mountaineer teams over-prepared for some bowl games and were thus worn out by the time the game arrived, and that his philosophy is to have his players peak on game day.
To that end, WVU won't practice a great deal between now and the game on the 28th. The Mountaineers will have their final practice in Morgantown on Wednesday, then travel to Orlando on Thursday. Friday will be a day for activities, including a trip to Universal Studios, with Saturday and Sunday constituting the two days of full practices at the bowl site. Monday's walk-through won't include any hitting or intense work, so for all practical purposes WVU is down to just three more practices before the game.
"Practices have been very good," Stewart said of the work so far. "They have been sharp and physical. Some of the practices have been rambunctious, in particular with the linemen. Practice has been spirited. We've gotten a lot accomplished."