WVU debut brings memories between former coach, Steelers boss
College Football Videos
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This is a long and winding tale, one that began in obscurity and stretched into the brightest lights the sports world has to offer, the Super Bowl.
In a way, it has nothing to do with the football game at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday at noon, when William & Mary visits West Virginia in the season opener.
Then again, it has everything to do with it.
Where do we begin, in New Martinsville, W.Va., or Newport News, Va.?
They are the hometowns of two football coaches who are intertwined in their careers and intertwined in the two schools playing in this game.
They are former WVU coach, the late Bill Stewart, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Stewart had a vagabond career, until finally saving the West Virginia program by upsetting Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan following the devastating loss to Pitt.
Among his stops, from 1981-83, was at William & Mary, coached by Jimmye Laycock, who brings his 34th Tribe team to Morgantown this year.
A decade and a year after leaving William & Mary, Stewart found himself trying to build a staff at VMI. He was drawn to a young wide receiver who had just graduated from William & Mary, where he still owns several receiving records.
That would be Tomlin, and it was Stewart who gave him his first coaching job.
When the Steelers hired Tomlin, Stewart, then an assistant at WVU, thought back on the man he had hired.
“He could have been a great receiver in the NFL if he'd had more speed,” Stewart said at the time. “Mike was a great receiver in college. He came over to coach our receivers and he did a tremendous job.”
The two had remained friends — close friends, really — through the years.
In fact, when word reached Tomlin, who was at practice, that Stewart had been named to replace Rodriguez, he reacted with glee.
“Bill Stewart! That's the best news of the day!” he said.
The relationship didn't end with Stewart's untimely death from a heart attack while playing golf with former WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong in May 2012.
Indeed, that fall, when Stewart's son, Blaine, played his first football game of the year at Morgantown High, there were a couple of special guests in the stands — Tomlin and Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' general manager.
This is what Blaine Stewart tweeted that night:
“Special shoutout to Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert (Steelers GM), and my cousin Corey from NC for coming to my game tonight. Meant a lot to me!”
Not a bad substitute dad for the evening.
Make no mistake, if Stewart were still coaching WVU, Tomlin would have been emotionally torn where to place his loyalties with William & Mary in town. He returned to his alma mater to give the 2008 commencement address.
“This place, although small, it prepares you to deal,” Tomlin said. “I'm extremely comfortable with what it is I have to do for a living. ... And the reason that I'm comfortable is because of the experience I gained here as an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old. That's what makes this place special.”
Note: West Virginia ranked 23th on Forbes magazine's annual study of the most expensive college football game tickets in the nation, averaging $116.
Bob Hertzel is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Accident at West Virginia’s Cheat Lake sends boaters to hospital
- CMU, Pittsburgh’s Surtrac program aims to ease traffic congestion
- Pirates pitcher Morton turns in solid performance in win over Marlins
- Tesla home battery at $7K, partnered with rooftop solar system, may help reduce power bills
- Obama gets state, local allies for key initiatives
- With space to spare, Pittsburgh International draws corporate jet carrier
- Another broken promise: ObamaCare in the ER
- Westmoreland Veterans’ Monument unveiled, rededicated in Greensburg
- Cops: Man shoots 11-year-old with BB gun in McKeesport; boy critical
- Pirates notebook: Morton’s return to Pirates means Liz leaves
- Consistency keeps Cellone’s Bakery customers coming back