Will WVU have successful succession plan?

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
9:00
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- An American history buff, Bill Stewart lately has been reading David McCullogh's biography of John Adams.

"I know how much abuse he took when he was over in France and England," Stewart says. "His own country just ripped him for 10 solid years. His own friends turned on him. But the deal is, he stayed the course. He was chastised and abused, but they all came back around.

"It's pretty interesting."

Stewart then smiles, content not to say any more. It takes no great sleuth, however, to understand the lame-duck West Virginia head coach sees some parallels between himself and the nation's second president. After all, Adams had only four years before being replaced by the more popular Thomas Jefferson.

[+] EnlargeBill Stewart
Mark Zerof/US PresswireBill Stewart says he will do what he can to make sure the transition in West Virginia goes smoothly.
Late last season, Mountaineers athletic director Oliver Luck told Stewart that his term would end in 2011, even though Stewart had won nine games in each of his first three years. Luck hired Dana Holgorsen as offensive coordinator and Stewart's successor in 2012. Holgorsen got to handpick an entirely new offensive staff.

Because the coaches were on the road recruiting in January and February and taking what little time off they could manage in March, spring practice is a crucial period for the new staff to gel under this odd arrangement. How well they mesh may determine whether this ends up a peaceful transition of power or a battle of wills.

So far, at least, everybody is saying the right things.

"A year is a long time, and I didn't want to do this if this year was going to be really uncomfortable and awkward and all the rest," Holgorsen said. "I called several good friends who had good jobs and promised them they wouldn't be uncomfortable here. I feel confident we can get it done."

Coach-in-waiting scenarios aren't new, and sometimes they work out smoothly (see: Oregon, Wisconsin and Kentucky). Sometimes there's controversy (see: Florida State). And sometimes the anointed successor never makes it to the big chair (see: Texas and Maryland). What's different here is that at those places, the head coach had at least a say in who would follow him, while Stewart wasn't exactly looking to groom someone and step aside. Those close to him say he was understandably hurt by Luck's decision last year before the Mountaineers were even eliminated from a BCS bid.

But Stewart also made a pledge to serve the Mountaineers as long as he was asked to do so following his surprising battlefield promotion after the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. And the New Martinsville, W.Va., native who played his freshman year for the Mountaineers is as much a part of the state as coal and mountains. If anyone could suck it up and take one for the team, it's Stewart.

"Stew is a guy who wants what's best for West Virginia, regardless," said defensive coordinator and longtime colleague Jeff Casteel. "Anybody who knows him knows that. I feel assured that he's going to make the situation work."

Stewart said he gave no thought to just resigning rather than go through this potentially awkward transition year. He insists he will play the good soldier for the school he loves and try to hand off a strong program to Holgorsen.

"The worst thing that could ever happen for me is if this thing ever tailed off," he said. "That would break my heart, because that would hurt Rich [Rodriguez], that would hurt coach [Don] Nehlen. I don't want that legacy to leave."

So now they must make this arranged marriage in Morgantown work. Holgorsen will control all offensive decisions, and Stewart says he's never been much of a micro-manager anyway; he usually stays off the headset except between series. Stewart will still make big-picture calls like whether to go for it or fourth down or turn it over to the kicking game.

"That's the way I've been used to it the last three years, and the way I wanted it," said Holgorsen, who oversaw some of the nation's most prolific attacks at Oklahoma State and Houston. "My biggest job is to get the offense going and sit back and watch."

Luck said this arrangement gives Holgorsen an opportunity to learn all the other aspects that come with being a head coach. In a small state like West Virginia, that means cozying up to fans and donors, something Stewart knows how to do well.

"He and I are going to do a lot of speaking engagements together in May," Stewart said. "I'm going to see how good he can hit that golf ball."

Mountaineers fans care more about how Holgorsen can draw up a third-down play. They are already rejoicing at the thought of his high-powered spread offense replacing unpopular coordinator Jeff Mullen's schemes. Luck said he's already fielded more questions about the date of the spring game than he can remember.

"There's a palpable buzz," Luck said. "People do want to be entertained, clearly. And when you look back the past three years, we were playing some pretty good defense. Usually, when we didn't win, it was because we couldn't score points."

The hope is that Holgorsen's high-scoring offense will go hand in hand with Casteel's traditionally stingy defense, leading the Mountaineers back to national prominence. That will require chemistry between the offensive coaches and the defensive staff, the latter of whom are all holdovers from last year.

And it will mean Stewart will have to swallow his ego and get along with the guy hired to push him aside. When Jefferson defeated Adams in the 1800 presidential election, Adams was so upset that he did not attend Jefferson's inauguration. But the country continued to move forward and grow.

Will West Virginia?

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