December 16, 2010
Sometimes job security isn't as much about the job you do as the boss you have. Bill Stewart was hired by Ed Pastilong, somewhat infamously, after West Virginia's feel-good, blowout win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, just a few weeks after Rich Rodriguez hit the bricks for Michigan on the heels of one of the most devastating championship weekend flops on record.
Stewart, at that point, was the anti-Rod: Enthusiastic, popular and, most importantly, not about to bail on his home state under any circumstances. For Pastilong, that was enough.
Three years later, you could make the case that he was right: Stewart's won 27 games the last three seasons, as good a three-year run as anyone managed at West Virginia before Rodriguez's scorched-earth, 33-5 run from 2005-07, and is on the verge of leading three straight finishes in the final polls. But Pastilong's successor, athletic director Oliver Luck, seems more interested in what Stewart hasn't done: No BCS bowls, no major recruiting coups, no sense of progress or excitement among the faithful. And, as of this week's decision to import Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as Stewart's successor in 2012, no control over the program.
If there was any doubt that Stewart's "retirement" is a termination with 52 weeks advance notice, put them to bed. Luck was set on handing Stewart a pink slip months ago, almost immediately after taking the job, and it's only out of the generosity of his heart that he's letting Coach Stew take a year to vacate the premises, as Luck made perfectly clear this afternoon:
Just four months after he took over as athletic director, Luck said he met with Stewart on Nov. 14, the day after a 37-10 win over Cincinnati.
"I didn't believe we had an opportunity to win a national championship with the direction of the program," Luck said. "At the end of the day, results matter. And we weren't getting the results."
Rather than fire Stewart, Luck said he decided at the conclusion of the regular season to let Stewart keep his job next season after the Mountaineers finished with four straight wins. Stewart will take an undetermined administrative post in 2012.
"I think coach Stewart did a marvelous job toward the second half of the year," Luck said. "We went on a great win streak, and I thought he deserved the head coaching position for the 2011 season."
Which most definitely will not be a championship season, by Luck's own assessment, unless of course Holgorsen's offense is just that awesome right away. It may be the first time ever that an athletic director has issued a public "no confidence" vote in his current head coach.
It also sets quite the precedent for Holgorsen: 27-11 with back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh, a New Year's Day bowl and a share of the Big East championship are not acceptable at West Virginia – just like 26-12 with a top-15 finish and a share of the conference title over the last three years bought Dave Wannstedt a perfunctory office job at Pitt, under an athletic director who didn't hire him, either. We are talking national championships, BCS or bust here, people. Even if you're not cutthroat enough to give a guy like Stewart the boot, just like that, the guy who takes his place certainly has every reason to be looking over shoulder.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.