While getting dressed for the day Friday, I got out my Fiesta Bowl t-shirt. It would be the second day in one week I had worn the favorite shirt -- usually reserved for Saturdays -- to work. You see, while I am a fairly casual person, I just don't think a sports T is exactly office appropriate attire. But last week I didn't think there could be anything more perfect to wear to honor our beloved Coach Bill Stewart.
By now we should all know the heart-warming story of his rise to interim head football coach of the West Virginia University Mountaineers after the abrupt departure of Coach Rich Rodriguez. Stewart stepped up to the duty and performed beyond just about anyone's expectations. The Mountaineers won the game, 48-28. We were all on a blue and gold high. The next morning there was news of a press conference.
In the Wetzel Chronicle office we turned on our television at the appointed time and watched, with tears in our eyes, as our hometown boy was named the new head coach. Now many people said that was an emotional move, not well thought out. They said he didn't have the appropriate experience or record. I disagree.
I even read a blog from Oklahoma, imagine that, after his death that retold Stewart's story. They gave him just credit for the bowl win, but I was greatly disturbed by one remark they made. They said something to the effect that Stewart said all the right things in Phoenix during the bowl time--essentially that he schmoozed his way to the head coaching position.
You see, the person making that observation didn't know Stewart like his hometown knew Stewart. We knew that he wasn't schmoozing, he was just being himself. He was a gentleman that treated everyone, regardless of class, team colors, or anything else, as a person to be honored and respected. It wasn't an act; it was genuine.
People often poked a little fun at Stewart for his sometimes hokey or seemingly oddball phrases. He seemed just a bit too downhome to them, but he didn't seem that way to those who knew him -- even those like me who didn't really know him personally but simply knew the man and his reputation. He was the real deal and gems like him are very rare. His departure was a great loss.