The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 1, 2010

WVU’s Stewart walks on faith

Football coach keeps his beliefs up front in life

By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Editor

BECKLEY — For years, West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart and his wife Karen tried in vain to have a child.

“I remember when I was coaching at the Air Force Academy, a coach told me, ‘Bill, I don’t understand it, you’re doing all the right things’ and I felt like we were,” Stewart said. “We just continued praying about it.”

He moved on, moved around and it seemed like the couple would not realize their dream, or receive an answer to their prayer.

Until 1994.

While at VMI, where Stewart was head coach for four years, he received a call while he was on the road.

“My wife said, ‘Bill, are you sitting down?’” he recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s wrong?’ When you hear those words, you think something is wrong. When she told me, I’m not going to lie, I cried. We wanted for so long to have a child. And I will tell you this, that was a prayer answered. It was the power of prayer.”

The couple’s son, Blaine, now 16, recently got a learner’s permit.

The coach joked that he continues to pray, harder now that his son is on the road.

Of course, for Stewart, praying, or, for that matter, his faith are not jokes.

Stewart often evokes his religion in conversation. Even press conferences.

“I believe what I believe, and I say what I say and if I’m talking about my daily walk, I’m talking about my faith, and that’s Bill Stewart,” the coach said recently.

It’s something that is important to Stewart, who talked about his faith and his “walk” in an exclusive interview with The Register-Herald.

Stewart was raised as a Methodist but is now a Roman Catholic, as is his wife.

“For 16 years, I went to Mass with her,” Stewart said. “I would kneel when everyone kneeled, I did everything but take communion.”

Stewart went through his RCIA or Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, with Gary Fallon, who was a long-time coach at Washington & Lee, shortly before Fallon passed away in 1995. His son was baptized into the church right before that, during Christmas 1994.

“The day he was baptized I was a proud man,” Stewart said.

Stewart, like most coaches, carry’s a bag on the road.

In that bag is a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Bible, which includes both the old and new testament as well as daily readings.

“My wife and I read the bible every day,” Stewart said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the time, but we make the time. It’s easier during the season. I get into a routine. I usually read the Bible in the morning, before we go into meetings. A lot of the time, I will reread what I read that morning in the evening.”

Praying is something he also does daily.

“No, I don’t pray for wins,” Stewart said, laughing. “I pray for the simple things in life. I pray that I can be a good disciple. That I can be a good husband and a good father. The simple things are often the most important and you can’t forget that and forget why. And it’s because of Him.”

Often, a lockerrrom can be a tough place though Stewart allows his players to listen to music while lifting or preparing for practice.

“But nothing filthy or vulgar,” Stewart said. “They know my policy. If I hear it, it’s going off. I won’t put up with it. I don’t want to hear it. And just don’t want it around. We often have people visiting, a recruit, a recruit’s family ... I don’t want them to hear it.”

He knows he has been labeled as a “soft” coach, the antithesis of former coach Rich Rodriguez, who was known to be rough around the edges.

“I’ve said it before, and I’m sticking by it, that I am not going to use that kind of language on my men,” Stewart said. “Yes, I can get mad. Yes, I do get mad. But I don’t understand how anyone can use filthy language on a young man, to run him down, and then expect the player to have respect for him. That is not Billy Stewart’s way.”

He won’t preach to his players, choosing to lead by example.

And it has made a difference.

“Whether you have faith in God, as I do, or just having faith in your fellow teammates, I try to tell our guys that faith is important,” Stewart said. “It’s something we talk about. And not just in a football sense. I have several friends of faith, including priests and a couple of traveling evangelists. We talk all the time.”

Sometimes it’s even about football.