West Virginia promotes Stewart
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Bill Stewart was promoted to head coach of West Virginia on Thursday, hours after leading the Mountaineers to a stunning victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.Stewart was introduced in the morning as he and his team were preparing to return home. He was appointed interim coach in mid-December after Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan.Stewart’s five-year contract will pay $800,000 a year with incentives. Rodriguez signed a seven-year deal in August worth almost $2 million a year.”We saw all the characteristics of a head football coach leadership, loyalty, courage,” athletic director Ed Pastilong said less than 12 hours after the 48-28 victory by the No. 11 Mountaineers.Pastilong, who has known Stewart for 39 years, said “there isn’t a mother or father watching today who wouldn’t be proud to have their son play for this man.”West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin was among the crowd of boosters and staff packing the hotel ballroom for Stewart.”I’m West Virginia born, West Virginia bred, a West Virginian all my life, really,” Stewart said when introduced.Stewart never had a formal session with the search committee when Pastilong called him to his room after midnight to offer him the job.”I think I’ve been interviewing for the last 2 weeks,” he said. “It’s been the longest interview in America.”Stewart has not signed a contract but agreed to terms with a handshake.”I don’t have a lot of experience in these negotiations and things. That’s my agent right down there,” he said, pointing to his wife, Karen.Stewart had the backing of the team, including Pat White. The quarterback began stumping for Stewart on the field after running for 150 yards and throwing for 176 and two touchdowns in the victory over the No. 3 Sooners.”He deserves it,” White said. “A great man. A great coach. All the players respect him and all the players love him. You couldn’t ask for a better man to lead us to victory today.”Stewart said he wanted the entire staff to return.Pastilong said “a large number” of candidates were interviewed, but he declined to identify them. He said Stewart was among those considered from the start.”He obtained this position the old fashioned way he earned it,” Pastilong said. “Billy led us to our biggest football victory in the school’s history against Oklahoma. And he, his coaching staff and his support staff are outstanding Mountaineers, leading us through a tough time. Our future is bright, and we look forward to even more success under Coach Stewart’s leadership.”WVU president Mike Garrison said Stewart fully appreciates the school.”At this university, loyalty and trust are important,” Garrison said. “We know we now have a coach who truly values the opportunity to work as the head football coach at West Virginia University.”Fullback Owen Schmitt, who scored on a 57-yard run, called Stewart the “glue” that kept the No. 11 Mountaineers together during a rocky month.”We’re a family,” Schmitt said. “That’s why we prevailed.”The 55-year-old Stewart earned $139,000 this year in his position that also included coaching tight ends and fullbacks and being the special teams coordinator. He came to West Virginia as quarterbacks coach in January 2000 after two seasons as offensive coordinator in the Canadian Football League.Don Nehlen, the retired Mountaineers coach who hired Stewart, was glad his former assistant had landed the job.”He’s just such a good person and the kids love him,” Nehlen said. “It’s such a good fit with the program.”A message left for Rodriguez early Thursday was not immediately returned.Stewart was head coach at VMI from 1994-96, compiling an 8-25 record. He also had stints as an assistant at Salem College, North Carolina, Marshall, William & Mary, Navy, Arizona State and Air Force.Stewart was a captain for Fairmont State, which won the West Virginia Conference championship in 1974. He began his coaching career at Fairmont as a student assistant coach.Associated Press Writer Kelley Schoonover contributed to this story from Charleston, W.Va.
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