Thousands pay respects to ex-WVU coach Stewart
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — They arrived driving old pickups and new SUVs. They wore baseball caps and nicely tailored suits.
People from across West Virginia, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, came to Morgantown on Thursday to pay final tribute to former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart, who died Monday of an apparent heart attack, three weeks short of his 60th birthday.
Jonathan Kimble, a West Virginia graduate student and next year's school mascot, wore his brown Mountaineer suit into the Morgantown Events Center. On this day, no one's attire fit the occasion better.
“Everybody loved him as a friend and a Mountaineer,” Kimble said. “He was a genuine man.”
Outside, the West Virginia flag flew at half-staff.
Inside, state troopers guarded the entrance to the ballroom for seven hours while thousands of mourners walked past Stewart's open casket. An array of flowers, sent by colleagues such as Alabama coach Nick Saban and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, lined the room. The Big East Conference, spurned by West Virginia in its move this year to the Big 12, also sent a bouquet.
“He was everybody's friend,” said former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who waited in line nearly an hour to pay respects to Stewart's wife, Karen; son, Blaine; and brother, Ted. “That's the one thing everybody would tell you about him. I don't think there was anybody he didn't like or didn't like him.”
Bradley said Stewart called him “a couple times a week” last season when Bradley served as Penn State's interim coach after Joe Paterno was fired.
“He just wanted to know how I was doing, how I was hanging in there,” Bradley said. “He's a good guy. We lost a good guy.”
Former Duquesne men's basketball coach Ron Everhart, now an assistant at West Virginia, remembers Stewart as a friend more than a coach.
Everhart, a native of Fairmont, W.Va., was a seventh-grade basketball player when he first met Stewart.
“His roommate at Fairmont State was our coach,” Everhart said.
Stewart stayed in touch with Everhart. Last season he called Everhart before every Duquesne game.
“He just said, ‘Good luck. Go get 'em,' ” Everhart said. “The previous year (when Stewart was still coaching), he'd call sometimes. This year every single game.”
Stewart's coaching career spanned four decades, including a period as head coach at Virginia Military Institute, where he gave Steelers coach Mike Tomlin his first job. Two years ago, Tomlin wanted to repay Stewart with an invitation to the Super Bowl, but Stewart turned it down, Everhart said. Stewart had promised his wife he would take her to a play.
Tomblin praised Stewart for how he replaced Rodriguez after the 2007 season and led the Mountaineers to a Fiesta Bowl victory against Oklahoma.
More than that, Tomblin said, Stewart was “a typical West Virginian.”
“Friendly, outgoing, always had a smile on his face,” Tomblin said. “He will be missed.”
Before he got in line to pay his respects, Mountaineers fan Ed Cyphert was asked what he remembered most about Stewart.
“You've heard it all,” Cyphert said, “and every bit of it is the truth.”
A private funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. today at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Morgantown. A memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. at Magnolia High School in Stewart's hometown of New Martinsville, W.Va.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.