So it’s kind of like being at the end of a marathon.
Two days left of the school year for me and I feel like I’m just now getting that boost of energy needed to finish the year well. Of course, it helped that I hooked my phone up to computer speakers and blasted my Journey Pandora station. “Any Way You Want It” will really get your blood pumping in the morning.
But there are some things trying to get me down.
Monday afternoon, Coach Bill Stewart, former WVU head football coach, died of a heart attack. He wasn’t much older than my grandfather, who also died of a heart attack around the same age. I don’t know much about Bill Stewart’s personal habits, but my grandfather was a heavy smoker (Camels, often nonfiltered). I always liked Coach Stew from the first game he coached after Rich Rodriguez’s abrupt departure. The man wasn’t perfect (who is), but he always struck me as a man of good character, always prepared to say what needed to be said, firm but loving.
I don’t know that I could ever coach a major sport. But some of my favorite people have been coaches. Some of my role models have taken on the burden of being responsible for the victory and character of a group of athletes who challenge them every chance they get. Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Bowden and (of course) Vince Lombardi. Many of these men are/were good Christian men who asked for nothing more than the very best their players had to offer, both in performance and character.
Coach Stew was, as far as I’m concerned, that kind of coach. He pushed WVU to become a team filled with integrity and heart. He kept a football program alive that could have collapsed in the wake of the Rodriguez fiasco. Did WVU have as many wins? No. But the character of the program, the love that WVU fans have for their team and their state, seemed to be renewed. Coach Stew was a West-By-God-Virginian and it showed. He could be hard on the players, but only because he demanded their very best and recognized when they weren’t giving him 100%.
I don’t know all of the polotics involved in his replacement last year, but I think that is when Coach Stew slowly started to die. Do I mean that literally, of course not. But I have this theory (it’s not mine, really, I just like saying that). If you force a man to stop doing what he loves, what he has dedicated most of his life to loving, you’ve officially killed him.
So, Coach Stew, I am adding you to that list of coaches who inspire me to give everything I have to whatever it is I love, to have consistent character and integrity, to press on even in the shadow of defeat.
Thank you for everything you did for me, for the sport, for WVU, and for all of West Virginia.