Stewart 'a true Mountaineer'
Shelly Poe wept.
It had been hours since she received news of Bill Stewart's death. Still, the former WVU sports information director had trouble coming to terms with the loss of her friend.
"Could there be a nicer person? I don't think so," Poe said through the tears. "Could there be a person who more loved West Virginia? I don't think so ... He'd do anything for anybody."
Poe, now at Auburn, was one of many to express shock and grief after Monday's death of the former Mountaineer assistant and head football coach. In addition, there was reflection and anger over Stewart's ouster at WVU in 2011.
"Of all the places in the world, he wanted to work in his home of West Virginia," Poe said. "He wanted to stay so bad."
Poe paused to gather herself.
"Some of the things he said might have sounded corny or hokie," she said, "but he was never embarrassed to talk about his pride for his state or his wife and son."
Bill Kirelawich worked beside Stewart for 10 years in Morgantown before joining Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona.
"I'm heartsick," Kirelawich said. "My heart is broken. All I can think about is how unfriendly it was [at WVU] in the end. He didn't do anything wrong. The whole thing didn't have to end like that. It could have ended with more dignity, more class, but what are you going to do?"
WVU athletic director Oliver Luck replaced Stewart with Dana Holgorsen after allegations Stewart asked a reporter to "dig up dirt" on Holgorsen. Stewart was initially set to be the head coach last season with Holgorsen the offensive coordinator.
"Billy was a good guy, a good person," Kirelawich said. "He was a good guy to work for. He had his ups and downs, but so does everybody."
Luck issued a statement through WVU.
"Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer," he said. "His enthusiasm and passion for his state's flagship university was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing."
Don Nehlen, who hired Stewart, said he was "very saddened."
"I hired Bill in my last year when I was close to retiring," Nehlen said. "Bill was such a great Mountaineer and a great addition to our staff. It was a terrific hire. He did a great job not only for me, but for Rich [Rodriguez] and as a head coach.
"Bill was such a great husband and a great father. Bill Stewart was a great Mountaineer. My heart goes out to [wife] Karen and [son] Blaine."
Radio and television announcer Tony Caridi worked closely with Stewart.
"We had more than a coach-announcer relationship," Caridi said. "He was a friend. Just a wonderful person and ambassador for the state.
"He brought us wonderful memories like the Fiesta Bowl. But he was bigger than football, the way he took care of people. There wasn't a big-time bone in his body. He was the definition of a West Virginian: kind, tough, blue-collar and a truly loving person."
Current Mountaineer assistant Steve Dunlap first met Stewart in the spring of 1973, when both worked on the staff at Navy.
"I'm dumbfounded," Dunlap said. "He was a wonderful man, a very religious man and a true-blue Mountaineer ... When his son Blaine was born, it was the greatest day of his life. He was really proud of him and enjoyed watching him play. He was a true friend of mine."
Mountaineer basketball coach Bob Huggins toured the state with Stewart in the spring and summers on behalf of WVU.
"It's awful, shocking," Huggins said. "He was a great guy with great enthusiasm for life. He loved West Virginia and he loved the people of West Virginia. We lost a great man."
Mike Smith, a Mountaineer fan living in Charleston, pointed to Stewart's pre-game speech of the Jan. 2, 2008, Fiesta Bowl that went viral on the Internet.
"That's how he needs to be remembered," Smith said. "It's a great loss for his family. It's a great loss for West Virginia. It's a great loss for society because he was a great person."
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.