Commentary

WVU's divided house destined to fall

Originally Published: June 10, 2011
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

West Virginia fell for Bill Stewart on a cool desert evening three-plus years ago. The Mountaineers had been jilted by their longtime partner, Rich Rodriguez. The university went to the Fiesta Bowl wounded, lacking in self-esteem, and there was Stewart, cooing sweet nothings to those troubled Eers.

[+] EnlargeBill Stewart
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWest Virginia's marriage with Bill Stewart as head coach had a blissful beginning after the Mountaineers' Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.

They fell for him, and they fell hard. No. 9 West Virginia routed No. 4 Oklahoma 48-28. In the heat of the moment, before the sweat had dried on anybody's uniform, the university proposed a long-term commitment to Stewart. He said yes.

This is the story of two marriages, both on the rocks. So set 'em up, Joe. I got a little story I think you oughta know.

Marriage No. 1 turned out not to be the work of a romance novelist. As Debbie Macomber, who sells love stories like Starbucks pours lattes, told the website BookPage, "Reality rarely lives up to our expectations."

West Virginia expected a team that looked like the Mountaineers who rode that emotional high to victory over the Sooners. What they got was a program that took a step back -- maybe even two -- from where Rodriguez left them.

West Virginia continued to win under Stewart. The Mountaineers went 9-4 in each of his three seasons. Add that Fiesta Bowl victory, and Stewart went 28-12 as a head coach. But the excitement generated by Rodriguez's offenses, when every snap felt as though it might explode into a breakaway, became a distant memory.

In Rodriguez's last three seasons, West Virginia averaged 37 points per game and failed to score 27 points in only six games. In Stewart's three seasons, the Mountaineers never averaged 27 points per game. Rodriguez's last three teams finished in the top 10. Stewart's teams never finished higher than No. 23.

No best-seller has ever been titled "Great to Good."

On the merits, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck decided in December that his football team needed a new coach. Remember what he said? This Mountaineers program couldn't win a national championship.

That brings us to Marriage No. 2, which also lacked romance.

In a decision between him and his own office politics, Luck decided to try to mesh Stewart with the coach Luck wanted to replace him, coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. Luck wanted a coach to bring the magic back to West Virginia's offense. Holgorsen has the résumé that suggests he will do so. But with the playbook that Holgorsen brought to Morgantown came a lot of tension.

Stewart still wanted to be head coach. Not only did five new assistants come into his coaches' meeting room uninvited by him, but one of them would replace him next January. In the best of circumstances, you would have to strain very hard to hear the violins. In these circumstances, it came as no surprise when information leaked out of the football office that Holgorsen had problems at a nearby casino in the wee hours. That is a symptom of a divided house.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerDana Holgorsen's tenure as WVU head coach will begin a year ahead of schedule following Bill Stewart's resignation.

Once rumors emerged that Stewart may have been behind the leaks, it became clear that this marriage could not last. Luck launched an investigation. He put his wife and four children -- including Stanford quarterback Andrew -- on a plane to Europe on Thursday night for a vacation that he very much looked forward to enjoying.

It didn't matter whether Stewart -- or his wife or his dog or his goldfish -- actually did the leaking. The next six months would have lasted 10 years. There may be two coaches out there who could shake hands, move beyond this and win games, but they would be rare breeds indeed.

Instead, Stewart becomes the second coach at a prominent university to resign under pressure in the past two weeks. Unlike Ohio State, West Virginia is not peeling the backing off a bandage of an interim coach for the next six months.

Luck has his man, surely the last coach-in-waiting whom college football will see for a while. What looked like the shape of things to come in coaching became as faddish as Silly Bandz. Even at Texas, where Will Muschamp did nothing but work well with Mack Brown, the ticking of the clock annoyed both coaches.

So that adds up to two failed marriages and the death of a fad. Maybe there's plenty there for a novel after all.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com