WV Governor: A Life That Left No Doubt
“Leave no doubt tonight. You out-block ’em, you out-tackle ’em, you out-hit ’em, and you out-hustle ’em.
“Leave no doubt tonight. No doubt. They shouldn’t have played the Old Gold and Blue. Not this night. Not this night.”
-Coach Bill Stewart, Glendale, Arizona, January 02, 2008
Somewhere in the Arizona desert, 2000 miles from the West Virginia hills where Bill Stewart was born, the hills his heart never left, in a locker room buried deep inside a monumental arena, dark and silent now, those words still echo. Whenever the long, proud history of West Virginia University football is written down, those words will be etched above it, a ringing, eloquent summation of the spirit of a school and of a state, of generation upon generation of hard-earned victories and valiantly fought defeats.
Those words, delivered by a beloved native son as he rose to meet the moment for which he was born, now provide a postscript, sadly premature, to the memory of the man who spoke them. For Bill Stewart lived a life that left no doubt.
That night in 2008, Bill’s Mountaineers faced the vaunted Oklahoma Sooners, seven-time national champions. He was an underdog leading an underdog, a nearly career-long assistant with stops in Fairmont and Sistersville and Huntington, in North Carolina and Virginia and Maryland, in Colorado and in Montreal and Winnipeg, a long and winding road that finally had brought him back home to become a pillar of the Mountaineer coaching staff. Now, suddenly, he found himself at the helm of a team whose own national championship hopes had died in a wrenching upset by a bitter rival in the season’s final game—and whose head coach had then promptly quit.
The experts doubted his team, sensing broken spirits and disarray. But Bill Stewart believed. He believed in the power of sweat and strain and commitment, believed that even on a daunting stage, a team with faith in each other and a will to win could rise to the occasion. And in that locker room in the desert, with the bright lights of the stadium and the eyes of the world a few steps away, he made the young men under his leadership believe it, too. Together they delivered one of the great victories in Mountaineer history, overwhelming the opposition, leaving no doubt.
Bill’s message in that moment distilled his life to its essence. He practiced what he preached, living every day, every minute, in a way that could leave no doubt about the kind of man he was: a gentleman of uncommon decency and honor and warmth, a passionate coach, a throwback to a simpler, purer era in sports. He was unabashed in his faith in God and his pride in his home state. He cared deeply about his players. To him, they were not football stars, but young men entrusted to his care. Their safe passage to adulthood mattered more to him than their blocking and tackling, and their love for him was unanimous and boundless, a testament to the way he went about his work. In that, his players were not alone: everyone who met Bill loved him, from ordinary fans to the world-famous sportscasters who relished their visits with him at Mountaineer Field.
We lost a great West Virginian this week, and a good man. Bill Stewart was one of a kind—generous, true, and irreplaceable. We were blessed to have him. No doubt.