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Ex-West Virginia coach Stewart dies at 59

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Ex-West Virginia coach Stewart dies at 59

From Comcast SportsNet
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart, who was hailed as Rich Rodriguez's successor but wound up leaving the school in a messy split, died Monday of what athletic department officials said was an apparent heart attack. He was 59. Stewart's family notified the university and said Stewart had been out golfing with the longtime friend who hired him as head coach, former athletic director Ed Pastilong. West Virginia spokesman Michael Fragale said he had no further details, and Pastilong couldn't immediately be reached for comment. "Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer," athletic director Oliver Luck said in a statement released by the university. "His enthusiasm and passion for his state's flagship university was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing." U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who was governor at the time Stewart became head coach, said Stewart was a longtime friend who "leaves behind a lifetime of memories and love for our state." "Bill was a proud West Virginian in every sense of the word," Manchin said, "and he was the best cheerleader this state ever had." The West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association held its annual golf tournament Monday at Stonewall Jackson Resort in Roanoke. Ryan Crook of Beckley said he was playing in the tournament behind a group that included Stewart and Pastilong. Crook said he saw Stewart collapse on the 16th hole. Members of Crook's group drove their carts to Stewart's side, and ambulances were called, Crook said. Calls to the resort and to tournament organizers weren't immediately returned. Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons after taking over when Rodriguez left for Michigan after the 2007 regular season, but resigned last summer and was replaced by Dana Holgorsen the same night. In December 2007, Mountaineer fans unleashed their fury on Rodriguez for breaking his contract early and taking the Michigan job. He left the Mountaineers not long after a painful loss to rival Pittsburgh cost them a shot at the national championship and two weeks before the Fiesta Bowl game against Oklahoma, taking recruits and assistants with him. It was Stewart, a deeply religious family man, who stepped in and guided the team to a surprising 48-28 victory over the Sooners. In the euphoric aftermath, he was given the job full-time -- to the surprise of many -- but the Mountaineers didn't go to another BCS bowl under his leadership and Stewart couldn't match the production of Rodriguez. In Stewart's three seasons, West Virginia averaged at least 79 fewer yards per game than the 2007 team. In December 2010, Luck -- then just months into his tenure -- decided to hire Holgorsen as offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for the 2011 season. Holgorsen would run West Virginia's offense while Stewart would coach the team one final season before moving into an administrative job. Wins and losses weren't the only issue for the coaching change. Luck said season-ticket sales had declined in the year after Stewart became head coach. Luck said he'd modeled the transition after those done when Bret Bielema took over at Wisconsin and Chip Kelly assumed control at Oregon. Luck said he had no doubt it would be handled professionally, noting both coaches said they supported the idea. And Stewart was diplomatic about the hire, saying the team would let Holgorsen "implement ideas and schemes in preparation of getting the finest offensive staff we can compile." Six months later, the arrangement had fallen apart, and Stewart's departure became difficult. Both he and Holgorsen made unwanted headlines in the weeks leading up to the shake-up. An intoxicated Holgorsen was escorted out of a casino, then a former newspaper reporter said that Stewart had approached him shortly after Holgorsen's hiring to "dig up dirt" on his eventual successor. "At the time I thought it made a lot of sense, I thought it was good management practice," Luck said last June. "With hindsight, folks could certainly disagree." In Holgorsen's first season, the Mountaineers went 10-3, were Big East co-champions and beat Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. "The State of West Virginia, our University and our football program has lost a true Mountaineer who gave his native state university a decade of coaching service and a lifetime of guidance and inspiration to thousands of young men over a 33-year career," Holgorsen said Monday. "Though Coach Stewart achieved many great milestones on the field, we will most remember his kindness and compassion." Former West Virginia running back Steve Slaton, who entered the NFL draft after his junior season in 2007, said he was at a loss for words. "I am honored to have had him as a friend and coach," Slaton said. "I know every player that has had the opportunity to be around him would say the same." Stewart, a native of New Martinsville, attended Fairmont State and earned a master's degree in health and physical education from WVU in 1977. He had assistant coaching stints at seven colleges before becoming head coach at VMI in 1994, going 8-25 in three seasons. After a two-year stint in the Canadian Football League, Stewart was hired by Don Nehlen as an assistant at West Virginia. "Bill was such a great Mountaineer and a great addition to our staff," Nehlen said. "It was a terrific hire -- he did a great job not only for me, but for Rich and as a head coach. Bill was such a great husband and a great father. Bill Stewart was a great Mountaineer." Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got his first coaching job when Stewart hired him as an assistant at VMI, and Tomlin was elated when Stewart got the West Virginia job. "We are saddened by the passing of Coach Stew," Tomlin said in a statement released by the Steelers. "He was a great coach and a tremendous person. We not only lost a good football person, we lost an even better family man." Stewart and his wife, Karen, have one son, Blaine.

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Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Since taking over as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Todd Reirden has had to deal with Tom Wilson getting suspended, a number of injuries and a team-wide Stanley Cup hangover.

So how would he describe the start to his first season as an NHL coach?

“It’s obviously a dream come true,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview.

Reirden’s playing career came to an end in Europe in 2007, but his coaching career really began in 2004 while he was a player with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Out with an injury, head coach Todd McLellan encouraged Reirden to take more of a coaching role with the team. It didn’t take long for Reirden to realize his real future in the game was as a coach and not as a player.

Reirden climbed the ranks as a coach from college, to the AHL and finally to the NHL. He spent the last eight seasons in the NHL behind the bench as an assistant and associate coach before finally getting the opportunity to become a head coach.

“Something when you start coaching just as I used to think about as a player, was the ultimate was to be able to play at the highest level,” Reirden said. “I was able to do that as a player and now able to see that dream come true as a coach. First things first is it's been amazing from that standpoint.”

The history of the NHL – and all professional sports for that matter – is full of assistant coaches who just could not make the transition from assistant to head coach. There is no doubt Reirden knows what he’s doing when it comes to the development of players and on-ice strategy. The last few years working with the Caps as an assistant and then associate coach have shown us that.

But being a head coach is about more than just what happens on the ice. That’s the part that first-year head coaches seem to struggle with initially.

“How everything works behind the scenes in terms of organizationally, dealing with the salary cap and sending down players, keeping them on board and the constant contact with Hershey,” Reirden said. “You spend a lot of time on those type of things. It's been a little bit of a transition too I would say with two new staff members in terms of how I'm delegating responsibility and empowering them in their particular areas. That's probably been the things that have been the most different for me.

“The hockey part, the coaching part, talking to the players in between periods, the media, that stuff has all gone really smoothly,” Reirden said. “No real transition there. But I'd say more the stuff behind the scenes is the stuff that's been a little bit different than expected.”

Reirden is certainly getting a crash course on roster construction given the recent spate of injuries and recalls. That has unquestionably affected the play of the team and is a major reason why the Caps have looked so inconsistent to start the season. It is not how Reirden would have scripted his first season to start.

But even with everything his first season has thrown at him and a 9-7-3 record, Reirden still feels like he is exactly where he wants to be.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards take on Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland Trail Blazers. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Schedule heats up

The Wizards really needed that one on Friday night. Though the Nets, even without Caris LeVert, aren't an easy out, the Wizards wanted to fully take advantage of a soft spot of their schedule. It's tough to lose to the Nets when you consider the road ahead.

The Wizards play seven straight games against teams at .500 or better. That includes a road game against the Raptors, who are tied for the league's best record. They also see the Rockets, the Pelicans twice and play at the Sixers. It all begins Sunday against the Blazers, who are tied for the fourth-best record in the NBA.

Rematch

Most of the Wizards' games this season have been lopsided one way or the other, and usually in the direction they would not prefer. But they have played a few close games and their most entertaining one happened to come against this same Blazers team.

The Wizards and Blazers went to overtime on Oct. 22 in Portland. The Wizards forced the extra period thanks to a three by Bradley Beal, and they won thanks to Otto Porter Jr. blocking Damian Lillard's shot in the closing seconds. 

The Wizards and Blazers have played some classics in recent years. Markieff Morris beat them with a game-winning three two years ago and last season Beal dropped 50 at the Moda Center. The matchup between both teams' star guards seems to bring the best out in everyone.

Howard vs. Nurkic

Much of the focus in this matchup is always on John Wall and Beal vs. Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but there will be a lot of action in the paint with Dwight Howard going up against Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the game and Nurkic, who pulls in 10.7 per game, is a big reason why. Nurkic also averages 15.5 points.

Howard is coming off his best game as a Wizard. He had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Nets on Friday night. He was hurt when the teams first met in Portland.

Both are bruisers around the rim who don't stretch the floor with outside shots. It should be a physical battle on Sunday night.