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Beloved coach dies at age 59

By Staff | May 23, 2012

Mountaineers worldwide are mourning the passing of former WVU Head Football Coach Bill Stewart, who died of an apparent heart attack Monday.

The former WVU football coach collapsed while playing golf with former WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong, participating in a game sponsored by the West Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association. He was taken by ambulance to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston but reportedly died en route. He was 59, just two weeks away from his 60th birthday on June 11.

Stewart, who was born in New Martinsville and graduated from Magnolia High School, was a beloved and respected sports icon in the Mountain State. Stewart played football at Fairmont State College and was a three-year letter winner and captain of their 1974 WVIAC championship team. He graduated from Fairmont in 1975 with a degree in education.

Stewart was an assistant coach at Sistersville High School for one year and a student assistant coach at Fairmont State for one season. He then became assistant football coach and head track coach at Salem College. From there he proceeded to assistant coaching stops at Marshall University, William and Mary, Navy, North Carolina, Arizona State, and Air Force.

Stewart’s first job as head coach was at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1994. Coaching for three seasons, Stewart gave current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomblin his first coaching job.

In 2000 Stewart was hired by WVU head coach Don Nehlen to coach the quarterbacks, and then retained by Rich Rodriguez, who promoted him to associate head coach prior the the 2007 football season.

When Rodriguez abruptly left the university to accept the head coaching position at Michigan, Stewart was named interim head coach and was responsible for readying the WVU Mountaineers for the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. The 48-28 upset victory over number three ranked Oklahoma was the most memorable win of Stewart’s WVU coaching tenure. Immediately following the win, Stewart was made full-time head coach of the WVU football program.

In his Fiesta Bowl pre-game speech to the Mountaineer football team, Stewart told players, “It’s Mountaineer pride…. from the heart” which would carry the team to victory. “Leave no doubt, no doubt, they shouldn’t have played the old Gold and Blue.”

Stewart is survived by wife, Karen, and son, Blaine.

“This is a sad day for our entire state,” said WV Rep. David B. McKinley. “Bill was an outstanding person who touched thousands of lives. I am personally saddened because Bill and I knew each other for years. Bill represented the University in the best possible way. He was a solid individual and a man of true character. My wife and I were so proud when this New Martinsville native was named head coach of the Mountaineers. Please join me in praying for his wife, Karen; son, Blaine and their entire family.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued the following statement after learning Coach Stewart died.

“Coach Stewart brought a new found pride to the Mountaineer faithful as he led the football team in both competition and character,” Gov. Tomblin said. “Joanne and I are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Coach Stewart and offer our sympathies to his family. Together, we ask that Mountaineers everywhere keep the Stewart family in your thoughts and prayers during this sad time.”

Senator Joe Manchin issued this statement:

“West Virginia truly lost one of its best citizens today, but my friend Bill Stewart leaves behind a lifetime of memories and love for our state,” Manchin said. “It has been my privilege to be able to call Bill my friend ever since his days playing ball at Fairmont State. From the moment I met him, I knew that you never had to worry about Bill’s enthusiasm; he had enough for all of us.

“Bill was a proud West Virginian in every sense of the word, and he was the best cheerleader this state ever had. For me and Gayle, our hearts go out to Bill’s wife, Karen, and his son, Blaine. I hope that they know just how much Bill meant to the people of this state and how much we all will miss him.”

Senator Jay Rockefeller said in a press release, “I was saddened to learn about the death of Bill Stewart this afternoon. Bill loved West Virginia, and he loved the student-athletes he worked with. My heart aches for his wife, Karen, and their son, Blaine, and we should all keep the Stewart family in our thoughts and prayers.”

WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck remarked, “Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer. His enthusiasm and passion for his state’s flagship University was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing.”

“Mountaineer nation is truly saddened today to learn of the untimely passing of Coach Bill Stewart. Our hearts go out to the Stewart family and Bill’s many friends. He was a compassionate, energetic, and kind person. He loved his family dearly and was extremely community-oriented and very giving of his time,” commented WVU President Jim Clements. “He will be greatly missed.”

Logan Smith, a New Martinsville native who serves as the assistant sports information director at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, said, “I’ve met numerous coaches in my short career as a sports reporter at the Tyler Star News and as the assistant sports information director at Walsh, but Bill Stewart was, without a doubt, the nicest, kindest and most genuine coach I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. It’s not often that you find a role model of his caliber in your own back yard.”

“I’ve heard other people say that whenever you shook his hand, he made you feel as if he was having the best day of his life. I can’t remember a time when he didn’t have a smile on his face, win or lose,” Smith added. “It’s hard to put it into words, because it’s almost cliche to say ‘he was such a nice guy,’ but he was. Bill Stewart was the epitome of every cliche.”