When Stewart and his advisor sat down on Nov. 17 with Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck, the coach signed away his chance to control his own future.
Before the ink was even dry, Stewart’s fate was in Luck’s hands. At most, he had one more season in control of the football program. If Luck felt compelled, Stewart could have been shown the door before the calendar so much as flipped to 2011.
And that was before Luck had even met Dana Holgorsen for the first time (that didn’t happen until Nov. 23), let alone decided Holgorsen would be the man to take Stewart’s job.
The point in recounting all of these facts is to hammer one point home: Oliver Luck’s decision to change things at the top of the WVU football program was not driven by a burning to desire to make Holgorsen the Mountaineers’ head coach.
Instead, it was driven by a desire to ensure someone other than Bill Stewart would hold that position.
Thus, it’s not unreasonable to think Stewart should have known that even if Holgorsen were to somehow make enough personal blunders between now and the end of the 2011 football season to ruin his coach-in-waiting agreement, Luck would certainly move on and find another man for the job.
But reports indicate Stewart has not acted like a man looking to make a graceful exit.
Monday morning, the Charleston Daily Mail reported the finalization of Stewart’s contract has been stalled as West Virginia officials investigate the possibility someone within the football program (perhaps Stewart, perhaps someone under his authority) was the source of information used in a column in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch that characterized Holgorsen as a man with alcohol issues and a pattern of belligerent behavior.
And then, shortly after midnight as Monday (as fate would have it, Stewart’s birthday) became Tuesday, another revelation went further in showing Stewart might be capable of such subterfuge.
While on the air on 93.7 The Fan (a sports talk radio station in Pittsburgh), former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette WVU beat reporter Colin Dunlap said Stewart called him in December (in the days after Holgorsen was announced as Stewart’s eventual successor) and asked Dunlap to search for “dirt” on Holgorsen.
Going further, Dunlap said he was not the only reporter Stewart asked to do this.
That begs one question.
What did Stewart think he had to gain, even if he managed to drag Holgorsen through enough mud to cause Luck to scrap the succession plan as it currently exists?
If the document Stewart signed on Nov. 17 was not enough to convince him Luck was thoroughly dissatisfied with his performance as head coach, there were other, even easier-to-interpret signs.
From the time he took over as athletic director during the summer of 2010, Luck never went to great effort to praise or stand behind Stewart.
And at a December press conference after the coach-in-waiting plan became public knowledge, Luck rather bluntly (and infamously) told reporters, “I didn’t believe we had an opportunity to win a national championship [with Stewart as head coach]. At the end of the day, results matter. We weren’t getting the results.”
There is little doubt even if Holgorsen was out of the picture at this point, Stewart’s days would still be numbered. Someone else would ultimately be Luck’s pick to take the head coaching job.
Stewart is either delusional enough to think that is not the case, or devious enough to care about nothing more than taking Holgorsen down with him.
Either way, with a legitimate source (Dunlap) on the record saying Stewart was actively looking for ways to publicly discredit Holgorsen as far back as December, it is difficult to see any way in which the already-delicate succession plan in place could manage to work for an entire football season.
As long as Stewart is in a position of power, Holgorsen has legitimate reason to be worriedly looking over his shoulder on a daily basis.
It is impossible to imagine how even an accomplished coach like Holgorsen could adequately perform his duties while the man who (at least technically, if not practically) is his immediate superior is actively working to sully his reputation.
If the transition to Holgorsen’s leadership is to turn out to be anything approaching “smooth,” Stewart must be shown the door by Luck as soon as the legal matters surrounding the situation can be worked through.
Perhaps Stewart (or someone close to him) was not the source of the information in the Herald-Dispatch column -- information, it is worth noting, WVU officials have told Daily Mail reporter Mike Casazza was characterized by “blatant inaccuracies.”
But even if Stewart is innocent in that particular case, Dunlap’s revelation shows Stewart has worked to undermine Holgorsen in the not-too-distant past.
The fact that Stewart -- he of the carefully cultivated folksy, down-home, good-ol’-boy image -- will forever have his legacy tarnished by that report is staggering enough.
The only thing that would be more stunning would be Stewart stepping out onto the Milan Puskar Stadium turf as West Virginia’s head coach when preseason practices begin in August.