Coach Bill Stewart has a little over a month until signing day, which is his first test as a head coach and recruiter. He then has approximately 8 months until the 2008 season opener, which is like a final exam compared to this first signing day. As much as I hate to say it, I just don't know how he's going to fare in those tests.
But, apparently, Stewart Mandel already knows. And the picture isn't pretty.
Dismiss it as being overly pessimistic, but this is the what the national public is being spoon-fed. Whether we like it or not, this is what people will eventually hear enough that they feel they must accept it as gospel.
Here are Stewart Mandel's thoughts:
NEW ORLEANS -- I’ll get to Ohio State-LSU (the reason I’m here) in a second, but I have to take a moment to comment on West Virginia’s incredibly bizarre decision to promote interim coach Bill Stewart to head coach based solely on Wednesday night’s Fiesta Bowl rout of Oklahoma. It’s a fitting and, most likely, disastrous end to what had already been one of the most dim-witted coaching searches I’ve ever witnessed.
In the 17 days since Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan, the school’s "search committee" first settled on Florida assistant Doc Holliday, only to have state governor/de facto athletic director Joe Manchin nix it. Manchin then put in a call inquiring about childhood friend Nick Saban’s availability, then tried unsuccessfully to work out a deal to pry Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State. Then the school interviewed Central Michigan coach Butch Jones twice, left both him and Terry Bowden hanging in the wind, hired a search firm to help sort out the mess … then, somewhere around the fourth quarter Wednesday night, decided, "Heck … this guy right here seems pretty good."
I must confess, I know very little about Stewart, who seems like a nice enough -- and certainly enthusiastic -- fellow. But the best coaching hires are made by professionals who remove emotion from the equation -- and the short-sighted decision to hand over a nationally prominent program to a guy who went 8-25 as the head coach at VMI just because he kicked Oklahoma’s butt is the definition of a decision based purely on emotion. (That, or the fact that they got him for the incredibly low, low price of $800,000 a year, cheap even by Conference USA standards.)
Maybe Stewart will turn out to be the next Bill Belichick, but I’d guess he has a much better chance of becoming the next Bill Doba. Promoting an interim coach based on short-term success (Bobby Williams at Michigan State), or promoting an assistant just because he’s popular with the current players (Larry Coker at Miami), doesn’t usually work out in the long run. With Pat White and Noel Devine, it would be hard for any coach to screw up next year’s team, but two to three years down the road, the school will likely rue its hasty decision.
Meanwhile, university president Mike Garrison couldn’t resist taking one last parting shot at Rodriguez, the guy most responsible for the Mountaineers reaching the Fiesta Bowl in the first place, in announcing Stewart’s hiring. "We know we now have a coach who truly values the opportunity to work as the head football coach at West Virginia University," said Garrison.
I’m sure that will provide great comfort in 2009 when the Mountaineers are fighting for a spot in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Vent all you want, but until he proves otherwise, Bill Stewart, at least on a national scale, looks like a terrible hire. Note that I said "looks like." He has almost zero head-coaching experience, very little reputation outside of West Virginia, and certainly, is not a sexy name for the media. He's an unknown, and when there's an unknown, everyone tastes blood in the water.
In the ESPN/24 hour news day and age, appearances are a lot, if not everything. For awhile, it's going to be ugly. Until he proves otherwise, I suggest growing a thick skin and avoid turning on your television, radio, internet-receiving device, etc.