West Virginia's Bill Stewart resigns
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- After a week of drama that showed no signs of relenting, something in West Virginia's football program had to give. That something was head coach Bill Stewart.
His presence became such a distraction that athletic director Oliver Luck decided late Friday to eliminate it.
After introducing coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen as the new head man at a late-night news conference, a stoic Luck acknowledged having a series of "very frank and candid" conversations with Stewart the past few days about unspecified "rumors and innuendo" that had been dogging the program.
Stewart resigned Friday during a meeting with Luck, clearing the way for Holgorsen.
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Both have made unwanted headlines in recent weeks.
An intoxicated Holgorsen was escorted out of a casino last month. And this week, a former newspaper reporter said Stewart had approached him shortly after Holgorsen's hiring to "dig up dirt" on his eventual successor.
WVU was unable to substantiate any of the rumors about Stewart, Luck said, declining to reveal what they were. Stewart, who will not remain at WVU in any capacity, did not attend the news conference.
"That's in the past," Luck said. "We're focused on the future and building what has been a very successful Mountaineer program into a better Mountaineer program."
ESPN's Joe Schad first reported Holgorsen would take over for Stewart. Holgorsen will make an additional $2 million over six years because of his accelerated promotion. West Virginia reached a settlement agreement with Stewart, a source told Schad.
Luck said the program "is more important than any individual, is more important than any coach, any player, and clearly, this was becoming a distraction."
Holgorsen was hired as offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting in December, while Stewart was to serve his final season in 2011.
Now Holgorsen, who was Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator for one season before taking the WVU job, is a college head coach for the first time and also will serve as offensive coordinator.
"This is the chance of a lifetime. I understand that," he said. "... I'm honored. I'm humbled to have this opportunity in front of me."
He sidestepped a question about how it felt to step into the top job amid scandal.
"It's all about looking forward to the future, to next season," Holgorsen said. "I've had my head down and have been working diligently for the past six weeks, six months, and that ain't gonna change."
Holgorsen said he hasn't addressed the players yet, but his message plans to be "stay the course."
"Nothing's really changing," he said. "The one thing that will be preached every day is unity. I mean, everybody's in this together."
When Holgorsen was hired, West Virginia had anticipated the arrangement might not work. Holgorsen's initial agreement included a clause that gave him a raise if he became head coach before or during this season.
Luck had said he hired Holgorsen because he believed the Mountaineers couldn't win a national championship under Stewart's leadership.
Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons but failed to earn a Bowl Championship Series berth.
Under the transition arrangement, Stewart was supposed take an undetermined administrative position after the 2011 season.
Luck said he modeled the transition to ones conducted when Bret Bielema took over at Wisconsin and Chip Kelly assumed control at Oregon. Luck said he had no doubt it would be handled professionally, noting both coaches said they supported the idea.
"At the time I thought it made a lot of sense, I thought it was good management practice," he said. "With hindsight, folks could certainly disagree."
But things started to change after police escorted Holgorsen from the Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes on May 18. No charges were filed, and police said he committed no crime.
Still, Holgorsen issued a statement saying he had learned a "valuable lesson."
Earlier this week a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter said Stewart called him shortly after Holgorsen's hiring and asked him to find something negative on the new hire.
The former reporter, Colin Dunlap, told KDKA-FM on Monday night that Stewart also called at least one other reporter on Holgorsen. Dunlap said he discussed it with the other reporter, whom he didn't name.
Dunlap recalled Stewart saying, "'You need to get it out on this guy.' And I said, 'Hey man, I'm not like a part of some witch hunt.' "
Stewart had been under constant scrutiny since he was named interim coach after Rich Rodriguez's sudden departure for Michigan after the 2007 regular season ended. Stewart led the Mountaineers to a win in the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma and was named head coach in the early morning hours after the game.
Luck said Stewart, who turns 59 on Saturday, will be paid what "we are obligated to pay him under his existing contract," but wouldn't disclose the amount. Stewart never received annual contract extensions given to Rodriguez by former athletic director Ed Pastilong, who retired last year and was replaced by Luck.
Luck had said part of the reason for the coaching transition was season-ticket sales had declined under Stewart's regime. West Virginia sold out just one home game in 2010 and there were almost 12,000 empty seats for the regular-season finale against Rutgers.
In a statement announcing the resignation, Luck passed along a message from Stewart: "'As I said on the day I was appointed head coach, what is best for WVU is my first priority. Today, I am doing what I believe to be in the best interest of the Mountaineer Nation."
Holgorsen publicly thanked Stewart for "his service and his dedication to the football program, to the state of West Virginia, to the university. It is much appreciated."
But he also made clear which coach he plans to emulate.
Growing up in Iowa in the 1980s, "a job like this kind of seemed unobtainable," Holgorsen said. But he watched and learned from Don Nehlen.
"He set the standard for what it's like here, both on and off the field, and I look forward to living up to those standards," Holgorsen said. "I understand what the expectations are to wear the blue and gold, you know, and those expectations both on and off the field are something I look forward to living up to."
WVU president James P. Clements thanked Stewart, who joined Nehlen's staff as an assistant in 2000, for his long service to the university.
"Like every Mountaineer, I look forward to a great season, and know our athletic department and our student-athletes will work extremely hard to make us proud," Clements said.
Joe Schad covers college football for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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