December 27, 2007
Interim WVU coach worried about now
Daily Mail sportswriter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was a process of elimination that delivered Bill Stewart to that spot Wednesday  -- behind the microphone -- in which he seems so comfortable as the man in charge of West Virginia's football team.

"When it gets too tough for others, it's just right for Billy Stewart," he said.

He is the interim coach leading the 11th-ranked Mountaineers into the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma.

His days may be numbered.

Central Michigan coach and former WVU assistant Butch Jones, whose team lost to Purdue 51-48 in the Motor City Bowl on Wednesday night, will have a second interview today. It also was learned that Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley interviewed Wednesday.

Stewart cares only about his current responsibility.

"In the football world, this might be the battle for the national championship," said Stewart, the team's associate head coach and special teams coordinator. "I think Oklahoma is the No. 1 team in the nation. I don't buy that No. 3 stuff."

The Mountaineers arrived here Wednesday and a press conference at Sky Harbor Airport provided a welcome to the Phoenix area and the festivities. They practice this afternoon at Scottsdale Community College as they officially begin preparations for the game and put behind them a bizarre episode in which they were unsuspecting victims.

It began Dec. 16 when Rich Rodriguez quit to become the coach at Michigan and submitted a letter of resignation saying he'd step aside Jan. 3. Two days later, it was announced he'd resign at midnight Dec. 19. Stewart then became the interim coach.

"When things are bad and look shaky like they do now, Coach Stew is always the one to keep things calm and keep things in perspective," senior cornerback Vaughn Rivers said.

WVU looked ready to hire former assistant coach and player Doc Holliday, but the plan stalled and Holliday remains with the University of Florida and is preparing the Gators for the Capital One Bowl against Rodriguez's new team.

Along came Jimbo Fisher, who was also close to getting the job, only to take himself out of consideration to remain the offensive coordinator at Florida State, where he will be head coach no later than 2010 or find himself $2.5 million richer.

Exactly where WVU goes now is not clear, though one day they may very well have to consider Stewart for a job for which he will not campaign. Stewart was 8-25 as VMI's coach from 1994-96.

"West Virginia," he said, "knows what I'm about and what I stand for."

Now that WVU could not name a coach prior to its arrival here, it's conceivable the school could take its time and perhaps wait until after the bowl to make a hire to prevent any more distractions.

WVU could also take advantage of its location and conduct interviews with people who are closer to WVU now and better able to arrange a visit.

* * *

WEST VIRGINIA returned about 7,500 tickets to the Fiesta Bowl, meaning WVU sold about 8,500 of the 17,5000 it was provided. The allotment for players, the band and the traveling party is about 1,500 tickets.

The failure to sell the 7,500 tickets means a financial hit of about $1 million to WVU.

The Sooners, who played in the Fiesta Bowl last year, may return tickets as well. The only other BCS participant to return tickets was Pitt, which lost to Utah on New Year's Day 2005.

In 2006, the last time WVU was in a Bowl Championship Series game, none of the 15,000 Sugar Bowl tickets were returned. In January's Gator Bowl, WVU got rid of its initial allocation of 12,750 tickets, then asked for, received and used 3,000 more.

The Fiesta Bowl is neither surprised nor disappointed, though. Fiesta Bowl President John Junker actually called it a "Christmas miracle" considering not just the loss of Rodriguez, but also the one to Pitt that kept WVU out of the national championship game in New Orleans and prevented many already disappointed fans form making the pricier trip here.

"We're actually pleasantly surprised they did so well," Junker told the Arizona Republic. "We know thousands of their fans had made plans for New Orleans, and in many cases I understand (their travel packages) were nonrefundable."

The tickets WVU returned will go to area charities, the Arizona National Guard, Luke Air Force Base and various high schools.

* * *

IN ADDITION to his three seasons at VMI, Stewart's resume includes collegiate assistant coaching jobs at his alma mater, Fairmont State, Salem College, William & Mary, Navy, North Carolina, Air Force and Arizona State.

Stewart was with the Sun Devils from 1988-89 and was actually in the stands at Sun Devil Stadium when WVU played Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in 1989.

"I was in a cowboy hat, but I was crying," he said.

* * *

WHEN STEWART coached at North Carolina for the second time, his graduate assistant in 1985-86 was Kevin Wilson. Wilson is now Oklahoma's offensive coordinator who, like Stewart, also coaches the team's tight ends and fullbacks.

"He was the one running all the stuff," Stewart said. "I was the one getting all the credit."

Oklahoma's offense ranks No. 3 in scoring (43.8 points per game) and No. 18 in total offense (451.2 yards per game).

"He should be a head coach now," Stewart said.

Perhaps WVU will add him to its list.