It's a wide ranging topic, and one that doesn't have a clear starting point. So, in this column, I'll try to answer some of those questions, and offer some opinions on the perceptions created on both sides of the fence.
First, an observation. The media covering West Virginia does ask "the tough questions" that some fans clamor for. For example, after the Colorado game, both Bill Stewart and Jeff Mullen were questioned about WVU's final possession in regulation. Many believed, as did a large percentage of fans, that the Mountaineer coaching staff botched time management on that drive. The answers that came from the two coaches were different, and revealed much about the era in which each grew up and gained coaching experience.
Stewart gave the same answer he gives whenever he is asked to look back and consider a decision.
"I don't second-guess," he said saltily. "I absolutely wouldn't change a thing. We weren't going to put our defense on the 50-yard line with the game on the line."
That answer has to be considered in two ways. First, when Stewart says he wouldn't change a thing, he's not talking about the outcome of those plays. He obviously wasn't happy with that. What he means is that, as a personal philosophy, he isn't going to spend time looking back, because you can't change the past. To infer that he was fine with what happened is incorrect -- and is the most common error committed by fans who read far too much into each statement.
However, the statement is also reflective of the fact that Stewart, who is genuinely friendly with everyone he knows, sometimes doesn't see how such statements can be perceived. He matured and evolved in an age lacking today's fast past communications and knee jerk reactions. And there's nothing wrong with that. But it does sometimes lead to an incorrect perception of his meaning.
Stewart was also sharp with a couple of his answers, which is certainly to be expected after such a tough loss. When he does that, however, he always balances it out with words of praise for someone or some thing, which, again, is a mirror of his personality.
There are those who don't like that, of course. They want their coach steaming mad after a second consecutive loss. But Stewart is going to smile if the question or situation warrants it. Again, not a thing wrong with that. And those who have problems with it are just going to have to deal with it. No coach, or person, is ever going to do things that we all agree with 100% of the time. There are things that will rub the wrong way. But part of being civilized is to understand that and accept it, rather than harp on it with unfounded criticism.
Now, on to Mullen. He came of age in a different time, and understands modern media a bit better. He answers questions more directly, and isn't afraid to face the tough ones after games. Every question I have ever asked him has gotten a good response. He explains the reasoning behind something, and if I, or anyone else, doesn't agree with it, that's a totally different issue. Mullen may be a bit more savvy with his answers in that regard. Again, it's just different -- I don't think either way is wrong or right. Bobby Bowden plays the folksy, friendly uncle approach. Joe Paterno, the gruff grandpa. Each turns some off -- but again, no style is going to be liked by everyone.
Back to the answering of questions. Stewart is always going to deflect criticism of his players if possible. And he has a set of answers that he uses repetitively. But really, that's not much different than most head coaches. Much of the criticism of Stewart along these lines comes simply because WVU is 1-2. Were it 3-0, these issues would be much less prominent.
We come to the conclusion of this lengthy treatise without any concrete answers -- precisely because there are none. However, there should be some things that you, the savvy reader, can take away:
Example two: Ellis Lankster was asked if the team was having problems with the coaching they were receiving. His direct response: "Coach Stewart is a great coach. He and his staff are doing a good job. We are behind him 100%." Now, you can argue that Lankster isn't going to say anything bad about his coach. But the question was asked. And if things were that bad internally, someone would speak out.
Finally, the idea that tough questions aren't asked because of fear of retribution or close relationships is ludicrous. WVU isn't going to bar anyone, or cut their access, because he or she asked about critical issues.
I'm aware this is a wide ranging topic, and that I may not have answered questions fully. If you have more issues to explore, feel free to discuss them on our premium forum.