Stew's The Glue

Sunday caught Mountaineer fans far and wide by surprise. Inside the Puskar Center, though, associate head coach Bill Stewart had to put aside personal reaction for the betterment of the team.

Stewart and remaining coaches have been leading the Mountaineers through practice since Sunday afternoon, when former head coach Rich Rodriguez departed his alma mater to accept the same job at the University of Michigan.

Rodriguez met with his team briefly before retreating to his office while players and coaches went through a brief practice inside the Caperton IPF. The Grant Town native ultimately drove his SUV away from the Puskar Center to board a plane bound for Michigan.

While many were still absorbing the utter shock of such a quick and hasty change, Stewart and the players had no choice but to continue working.

"We didn't have time to dwell," said Stewart, who also coaches tight ends and coordinates the special teams. "First of all, I compliment our young people and the way they stepped up to the plate. They went to work, and it made the day go much smoother than most anticipated. That was good, and I'm very pleased about that. I'm sure our players are pleased about that too, because they did a nice job."

In the days following Rodriguez's departure, Stewart has witnessed the same effort and intensity which stood out in that initial workout. And with powerful Oklahoma on the horizon in the Fiesta Bowl, anything other than absolute focus and effort will not adequately prepare the Mountaineers for what is likely the most talented team they have faced since Miami left the Big East Conference.

On the other hand, having such a mountainous task awaiting in Arizona might actually help the focus of the players in comparison to preparing for a lesser bowl game with a mediocre opponent.

"If you ask coaches around the country, this is a national championship game because it's going to be two of the best teams in the country," Stewart noted. "I know that our guys are anxiously awaiting this opportunity, because that's what it is. This gives us another chance to go out and perform for the old gold and blue of West Virginia University."

A coaching veteran of more than 30 years, Stewart has seen just about all their is to see in a career that has included stops in high school, college, and the pros, as well as stints as both an assistant and a head coach.

"I've been around," he says. "I've been on both ends of this thing. The coming, the going. The good, the bad. All you try to do is stand before a group of young men and give them a common theme or common bond. Then, you press on and go after your goal. "Our goal, our target, our eyes are on January 2 in Arizona," he continued. "That's what we have to keep our eyes on. If we let distractions get involved, if we let obstacles jump in front of us, and we cannot deal with that, then that's not really good on my part. That's why I have been pleased over the past three days. It's been very good."

In addition to their preparations for the bowl game, players are also learning a life lesson that many before them -- here and elsewhere -- already know.

"I don't see it as any adversity, but I do think that these young men are finding out that sometimes, there are things in life that change," They are not life shattering. There has been no passing here or anything like that, it's just moving on."

That it is, albeit with Stewart keeping things glued together, not unlike a shepherd keeping his flock of sheep all driving in the same direction.

"I don't know if I'm a shepherd," Stewart chuckled. "I'm just an old ball coach trying to keep the herd together."

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