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Stewart on the way out?

MORGANTOWN - All indications Thursday evening seemed to point in the same direction - that Bill Stewart is about to lose his job as West Virginia's head football coach, the final strokes of the pen perhaps taking place today.

The only real unexpected twist, though, is a rather strange one. Apparently neither Stewart nor his attorney, David Hendrickson of Charleston, are in the loop. Despite numerous reports that a buyout is being negotiated, it isn't being negotiated with Stewart.

"There have been no negotiations,'' Hendrickson said Thursday evening while awaiting a delayed flight in New York. "I haven't heard from the athletic department today.''

Oliver Luck, WVU's athletic director, continued to steadfastly refuse comment on what was going to happen with his school's embattled coach, but did admit that "no one wants this to drag out any longer than it needs to.''

One source with intimate knowledge of the situation would say only that "I think you all know where this is headed.''

And that would be the termination of Stewart and the early elevation of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen into his spot as the school's head coach. That was supposed to happen after the 2011 season, but it now appears that Stewart might only watch that as a fan.

Still, there is no reliable confirmation from any sources that Stewart is, in fact, on his last legs. The only one with absolute knowledge of that is Luck, and he is not talking.

"I can't say anything,'' he said in response to a question about when a resolution might be made known. "I'm just not going to go there. I know that's not what you're looking for, but I'm just not going to talk about it.''

Multiple outlets Thursday night reported that the decision has been made, but none cited specific sources and almost all mentioned negotiations for a buyout. But no negotiations are taking place.

Still, if in fact the decision has been made to terminate Stewart, the only real issue left to be resolved might be contractual. When Stewart was forced to amend his 2008 multi-year contract in December of last year, the new pact agreed to pay him $750,000 in liquidated damages by Jan. 31, 2011 and then provide him with employment elsewhere in the university for 30 months, with compensation being another $375,000. But that was before the school decided to allow Stewart to coach the team in 2011.

When Stewart was allowed to stay on for another year, it was to be at his originally-agreed-upon (in 2008) salary of roughly $1 million. But there is also a clause that says that if Stewart is terminated at any time during the 2011 season - and this would presumably count as during that season - the university shall pay him the aforementioned amounts (the $750,000 and $375,000, or a total of $1.125 million).

In other words, what money Stewart has already been paid and the amount he may or may not be owed if he is fired remains at least in doubt.

Stewart's problems began earlier this week when he was accused of asking at least one former WVU beat writer to "dig up dirt'' on Holgorsen. The incident allegedly happened seven months ago, just after Holgorsen was hired from Oklahoma State to become West Virginia's offensive coordinator for the 2011 season and then as Stewart's replacement as the school's head coach in 2012.

Stewart is alleged to have asked a second reporter to do the same thing.

To make matters even more bizarre, Holgorsen, meanwhile, has had to deal with his own off-field issues. In May he was asked to leave the Mardis Gras Casino in Cross Lanes at 3:20 a.m., allegedly after being cut off at the resort's bar. Holgorsen admitted a few weeks later that he had made some mistakes, he was reprimanded by Luck and the issue seemed to be put to rest.

Reports since then have attempted to tie Holgorsen to other alcohol-related incidents, but most were investigated by the school and said to be false. Still, Stewart has also been accused in some quarters of spreading those rumors, which along with the allegations from December have created a national stir around the program.

Stewart was named WVU's head coach in January of 2008, hours after guiding the team, as the interim head coach, to a win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after Rich Rodriguez quit and went to Michigan. In each of his three full seasons, Stewart's teams won nine games.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.

 

 


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