Courses of Action

As reports (many of them recycled from original publications) continue to pile up concerning the fate of West Virginia University head football coach Bill Stewart, it's worth a moment to consider the possible courses of action the school could take today.

Over the past day, several media outlets, some reputable, some less so, have reported variations on the theme that WVU and Stewart will part ways, perhaps as early as today. Details are definitely in conflict in some of those reports (some say money is a hang-up, while others report confidentiality or other codicils are the final hurdles to the divorce), but the end result is supposed to be the same – Stewart will no longer be the coach at West Virginia by week's end.

On Thursday afternoon, was the first to report that Stewart and his representatives had not had any discussions, negotiations or communications with WVU on the issue of his employment, and that angle was corroborated by The Charleston Gazette late Thursday night. However, that doesn't mean that plans weren't being formulated to oust Stewart, or that further action was ruled out for the future. If that is the case, it opens the door on at least two different courses of action the school might take.

1) WVU could have put together a proposal that it is readying to present to Stewart and his representatives today. Such a document could be a modification of the Nov. 17, 2010 agreement which Stewart and the school are currently working under. That agreement would likely include a modified buyout figure, and change the terms of the agreement to include his immediate removal as head coach.

2) The school could also act unilaterally and announce a decision to terminate Stewart's contract without consulting either he or his representatives.

Which one is more likely to happen? Each has its own drawbacks. Down the first path, Stewart would likely have a very short window in which to agree to the proposal. West Virginia, logic says, wants to dispose of this matter as quickly as possible, and if that's the case, he might be given a "take it or leave it" opportunity, with a very quick deadline – perhaps one that is just hours away. If West Virginia were to take that route, then it has to have power behind the proposal – that is, a course of action to take if Stewart would not accept the terms of the modified buyout.

What that power would be remains unclear at this time. If athletic director Oliver Luck's investigation resulted in confirmation of the leak allegations against Stewart, or some other wrongdoing, the school could trade a lack of publicity on those events in return for Stewart's resignation. If there isn't a "stick" behind the offer, though, WVU might find itself with a fight on its hands if Stewart does not accept the offer presented to him.

If there isn't a deadline provided for a response, then it's not likely that Stewart and his representatives would choose to make a quick decision. In that case, no resolution would come quickly. That possible timeline, however, contradicts the sources who proclaim that the entire situation will "be resolved today".

The second option seems far less likely, but with the way things have played out to date, can anything be ruled out? WVU may believe it has the ability to fire Stewart based on the terms of the Nov. 17 modified agreement, and act without making a proposal or negotiating with Stewart or his team. That's not a typical course of action, even in the most bitter of separations. One source with direct knowledge of the situation told that "things just aren't done that way" and that such an event "could cause a lot of problems for WVU".

There could, of course, be other options that the University is pursing. With the twists and turns this case has taken, running all the way back to the NCAA violations and Stewart's acceptance of a modified agreement that allowed Dana Holgorsen to come on board as head coach in waiting, it seems that nothing can be ruled out.

The second major question to consider is this: What will Stewart do when WVU publicly announces its move, or when he learns of its proposal\offer? Will he "dig in his heels" as more than one source has indicated, or will he accept the offer? Without knowing the hand West Virginia is dealing from, a definitive answer is difficult to come by, but indications are that the former is a more likely response, given what is currently known. That, of course, could drag this series of events out much longer than the school desires.

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