As the Couch Burns: The bell tolls for Bill Stewart in West Virginia

On the last installment of our rapidly unfolding mountain soap opera, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck pledged to keep his department on lockdown to reporters as it continues to investigate accusations of possible leaks and outright sabotage aimed at new offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen — allegedly, according to one local scribe who claimed he'd been solicited for a smear campaign, the handiwork of the man Holgorsen was tapped to replace last December, lame duck head coach Bill Stewart. Read that again. You now have one guess as to how long Luck's efforts held back the flood.

All forecasts from Morgantown today suggest Stewart is about to be swept away. On the fringes of the Mountaineer media, a report surfaced this morning claiming negotiations to buy out his contract are in progress, and may be done as soon as Friday. A second, citing multiple sources, backed up the earlier report that plans to "develop an exit strategy for Bill Stewart" are underway, and added confirmation that Stewart contacted a second reporter in his campaign to undermine Holgorsen on the same day he contacted the first. Over at the WVU-centric blog The Smoking Musket, more than 600 fans in an open poll have almost unanimously called for Stewart's head on the end of a whittling knife. (As I write, the vote currently stands at 88 percent in favor of Stewart's ouster before the 2011 season.) Even on the more sober end of the beat, Charleston Daily Mail reporter Mike Cassaza conceded that, while nothing is final, "something is beginning to happen towards some end" and "what happens next will be the conclusion."

The cracks are beginning to open up tonight from mainstream pressure, as well, beginning with the Sporting News' Matt Hayes, who also reported that WVU is set to buy out Stewart's contract and drop the waiting period for Holgorsen to become head coach. If that's how it plays out, Holgorsen might well be the first person to be promoted as a result of a news story about him being tossed out of a casino at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.

As of this morning, there were still some people in the state who believed the conclusion would include everyone kissing and making up and buckling down for the summer to send Coach Stew out on a Big East title in December. Even at the beginning, though, it wasn't hard to imagine the "coach in waiting" plan to politely ease Stewart out forcing exactly the kind of violent rift that's played out over the last three weeks. There's nothing official yet — Luck's silence stands, for the moment — but by all appearances, the man who ascended to the top three years ago by briefly unifying his home state in the wake of another native son's controversial exit may be spending his last night in his dream job as the Great Divider.

Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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