Bill Stewart Remembered Five Years Later
By Bob Hertzel
Five years ago this past Sunday, Ed Pastilong, the former West Virginia athletic director, found himself engaged in a pleasant round of golf in one of those fundraisers which brings people together for a few laughs, a drink or two and to try and pry a few more dollars out of them for a charitable cause.
Pastilong was playing with a former football coach and having a jolly old time of it as they walked toward the 16th green at Stonewall Resort near Roanoke, his playing partner engaged in what he describes as a wonderful story about his own former boss, Fisher DeBerry, the one-time football coach at Air Force.
All was right with the world. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the group was having the kind of fun you have at these events … and then Bill Stewart fell dead on that 16th fairway.
“He fell over and he was dead,” Pastilong recalled the other day. “The guy who made up our threesome did first aid on him, the people at the golf course were extremely proficient, the emergency services in that area were extremely proficient, but there was not one thing anyone could do.”
Pastilong could not then, and cannot now, understand really what happened.
“Bill was in a good mood. He was usual Bill, one thing reminded him of another thing and he was telling this story and then, just boom, that was it,” Pastilong said.
No signs of anything wrong, no complaints, no signs of a problem.
“He was playing well. Bill was a pretty good golfer. He exercised. He was strong, conditioned well. He hit the ball pretty hard,” Pastilong said.
And then, at age 59, Bill Stewart was dead.
They said it was his heart.
What they didn’t say was whether he died of a diseased heart or a broken heart, for he had lost the job he loved as head football coach at WVU.
To this day, Pastilong isn’t sure how that could have come to be. First of all, he lets you know that amidst the controversy over who should replace Rich Rodriguez, he was very much in Bill Stewart’s corner.
“A beautiful person, one who was very friendly, sincere and extremely intelligent,” Pastilong said. “He was quite a historian, loved history. He was a very good family man and if you were his friend you were his friend forever.
“He was also a very good football man, as savvy as anybody in football and a great recruiter. If you were a family and he sat in your living room and talked to him about coming to play football for him, you had to feel confident he would handle things in a good manner.”
You might not always realize how smart Stewart was, for he came on with that country boy routine he had down pat, but only deflected you away from realizing the strength and depth of the man.
Pastilong sat back and watched Stewart as he took over the team from the end of the regular season to the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma, went to nearly every practice and observed.
“I was extremely impressed how he handled his staff and personnel, how he handled the media, how he handled the whole situation,” Pastilong said. “You could see he was the head coach.
“And, lost in all this, the players to the person came to the administration and wanted Billy to be head coach. This was a gentleman who earned that position.”
There are those who believe that Oliver Luck was right in making the change when he did, that Stewart wasn’t the man to handle the transition to the Big 12, that the WVU team was on a downward swing, but you can’t argue with 28-12 record he had as WVU’s head coach, nor can you argue with the fact that the team he turned over to a rookie head coach in Dana Holgorsen won 10 games and the Orange Bowl in his first season.
“He was 28-12. That’s remarkable. He deserved an extension, not an exit,” Pastilong said.
But the wheels were in motion and Luck had his own vision, one that may be proven right.
Still, you wonder, and those who know him miss Bill Stewart.
“Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t mention his name to me,” Pastilong admits.