Stewart shoulders blame at WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Less than 24 hours before Election Day, West Virginia coach Bill Stewart gave his best pitch to a rabid fan base upset by back-to-back losses.
Those fans spent the weekend calling for Stewart's job after the Mountaineers on Friday lost at Connecticut, 16-13, to fall to 5-3.
"I haven't noticed it," Stewart said of criticism. "So, it must not bother me. I've got pretty thick skin."
Stewart opened his Monday news conference with a 9 1⁄2-minute opening statement that discussed the state of his program and the changes he and his coaching staff need to make before the final four regular-season games.
"We've had a total self-evaluation of the program of all phases, starting with me to the assistants to the players," he said. "I need to do a better job."
Stewart said those who believe he placed too much blame on the players after losses to Syracuse and UConn are wrong. He said blame starts at the top.
"Am I finger-pointing• No, I'm only pointing this thumb at this guy right here," Stewart said, pointing to himself. "I am not pointing any blame at these players. But let me tell you, I was a player. If you're supposed to block, make a block and do it to the best of your ability. If you're supposed to hold onto the ball, do it to the best of your ability. If you're supposed to be somewhere in a formation, do the best you can."
Stewart said he met with offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and "grilled" the third-year assistant. They discussed whether the team has put more responsibility on some players than they can handle.
"Maybe we asked them to do things they couldn't do," Stewart said. "Maybe we thought they were better."
This season, West Virginia's offense is 77th nationally in scoring, 67th in total yards, 66th in passing yards and 53rd in rushing yards. Those numbers are worse than in past years under Stewart and Mullen.
On offense, Stewart said WVU will work on ball security, motion and pass protection. WVU has lost 11 fumbles this season and has struggled with penalties at crucial times, including two touchdowns called back at UConn. And quarterback Geno Smith has not had time to find open receivers lately, Stewart said.
Despite the defense being ranked in the top 10 in every major category, Stewart said he hasn't been pleased with the unit's ability to gain turnovers, make open-field tackles and conduct what Stewart called "backed-up" defense. Against UConn, the Mountaineers were unable to hold the Huskies deep in their end and force a punt late in the fourth quarter.
Stewart said he will meet with defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel today. West Virginia's next game is noon Nov. 13 vs. Cincinnati.
Note: The NCAA informed West Virginia's athletic department that its response to the notice of allegations regarding the football program is due Nov. 19 instead of Friday, a two-week extension. In a statement, WVU said it "did not ask for the extension and will abide with the new deadline." The NCAA alleged WVU wrongly used graduate assistants, student managers and other non-coaching staff members from 2005-09.