Remembering Bill Stewart and the Lessons He Shared - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Remembering Bill Stewart and the Lessons He Shared

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MORGANTOWN -

Finding the right words can be a difficult task.

In writing this, I have started sentences, paragraphs and even typed out full pages only to highlight the entire thing, guide my finger to the delete key and start over.

If this were written on a typewriter, my apartment would be littered with crumpled bits of paper, each piece containing memories and descriptions of a man who made an impact on countless young lives, memories now torn from the machine.

This is my latest effort, uncertain whether or not it too will wind up on the floor.

Stories, conversations, images and more are swirling through my mind, but my attempt to capture them in words seems feeble at best.

Yet, in what I knew of Bill Stewart from four years working alongside him at West Virginia University, he somehow seemed to always know exactly what to say.

The first time I met him, I was a frightened freshman manager trying to learn the ropes of WVU football when he sparked up a conversation about my hometown.

This coach, who did not know me from anyone, knew all about my high school and those around me. He knew players and coaches and restaurants by name as though he may have been from just around the block.

He recruited the area of Maryland that I am from and had loads of questions to ask me about this person or that and how they were doing these days since the last time he spoke with them. I went to Sherwood High School, and before I had left our first meeting, Stewart jokingly gave me the nickname "Robin Hood."

Thankfully, it didn't stick.

What did stick was the impression he made on a young kid who still wasn't sure what his place was as part of this team. That was no longer important, because Bill Stewart made it clear that I was part of it, which was all that really mattered.

As special as he could make an individual feel, what was even more impressive about the person I grew to know is how special he could make everyone feel.

Stewart went out of his way to make each man, woman, boy and girl he came in contact with feel welcome in the state he loved so much. Whether it was a young freshman on the football team, a student he passed on the streets, an opposing coach or countless broadcast crews that came to cover one of his games, they all were made to believe they belonged and that he would do anything for them.

When I came to Stew shortly after graduating and told him I had a chance to work for a company covering WVU sports, he put aside everything else he was working on to give me an interview so I could write a sample article for the job.

He was rooting for me, as he had for every young person he encountered, to find success.

I have forgotten many of his better one-liners over the years, but he was full of them every time he stepped onto the field, each more creative than the last and some including some measure of a history lesson.

Our kicker in those years, Pat McAfee, shared a great one Monday: "If a duck had your brain, it would fly backward and whistle Dixie."

It wasn't always poetic, but it sure did crack some smiles.

He would poke fun at players and staff members for their late night escapades around town and through that, he taught me what Mario's Fishbowl is.

Anyone who has ever been to Morgantown knows how invaluable that information truly is.

He told more stories of historical wars or legends or football players and teams than I could begin to remember, seeming to have a new one for every post-practice speech when he took over as head coach.

But the one that stands out dates back to his stint in the interim position when WVU football was reeling from a loss to Pittsburgh and a different sort of loss to Michigan.

"Look over there," Stew would say at the end of practice and point to the distant mountain range, "Those are the Superstition Mountains."

The tale of the Lost Dutchman's Gold could very well have been the secret to winning the Fiesta Bowl. He gathered the team every single day and told the story, letting them know that while that gold may never be found, the team's gold was still out there in the Arizona desert, waiting to be claimed in a stadium in Glendale.

I am not sure if I ever saw him smile as much as he did that night, turning from the field toward the sideline to hide his excitement from the cameras and from Oklahoma and share it only with those who helped bring it to him.

For Stew, it wasn't the trophy that represented his gold. It was the symbol on his blue shirt.

His prize has always been that he is a West Virginian and a Mountaineer. As far as I could tell, that fact ranked right up there with his family and his faith as the most important defining factors in his life.

He tried to impress upon us in those days just how much it meant to be a West Virginian and just how much it meant to West Virginians to be a Mountaineer.

After the bowl, we stood around in that locker room, celebrating what the team had just achieved on the field when Stew told us something I'll never forget.

He said to take some time to stop and smell the roses.

Not just with a football victory, but in every step of every minute of every single day on this earth, just stop. Look around you, count your blessings and live for each one of them and for the hope that you can add more along the way.

Stew was not a perfect man and I believe he would be the first to admit just that. But he was able to take a lot of far less perfect men and turn them into something better, or at least open their eyes to the fact that someone truly cared about them.

The outpouring of emotions from former players and coaches as word spread that he had passed away Monday was evident of the man they grew to know and love, many of them believing he was more like a father than a coach.

He taught them to love themselves and their fellow man, to live each day to its fullest and to take advantage of each moment they were afforded because the next was not promised.

And along the way, stop and smell those roses.

So when my alarm goes off tomorrow morning, I will take a lesson from Stew and I will not put my hand anywhere close to that snooze button.

I will get up and, head filled with history lessons and smiles and one-liners, I will take in every aspect of the life I've been given.

That, Coach, is Cub and Boy Scout's honor.

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