Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Q&A: Bill Stewart, Head Coach, WVU

College Football Insiders Coaches Corner interview with West Virginia Head Coach Bill Stewart. Hosted by Daniel Mogollon. Click to listen.

Coach Stewart is 10-4 as head coach at WVU, including bowl wins over a Bob Stoops-led Oklahoma team and Butch Davis' North Carolina squad. So how are things in Morgantown?

It’s going really well Daniel. Thank you for having us on and thanks for your interest in Mountaineer football. We had our meeting last night, at six o’clock we met. We made sure they're all back safe and sound. Classes just began after a week of spring break, it’s always nice for these lads to get out and enjoy themselves. We had lifting this morning as usual. We’re going to lift on Monday’s and Thursday’s, generally. We’re going to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday so we’ll meet today at four for a short meeting and we’ll practice tomorrow and Wednesday, then we’ll lift again on Thursday and practice on Friday and Saturday and that will conclude week number one. We’re excited about spring practice. This is a great time and the sun is out in Morgantown, how about that? Spring is here and I hope it’s here to stay.

Since this is the eve of spring football at West Virginia, what are your goals for the spring, other than staying healthy, of course?

Well, first and foremost we want to stay healthy. We want to have fun, but we work really hard. We had something all winter. Phase one is the winter conditioning and it's tough. We call it “another level”, 6 am workouts. Some people call it “4th quarter”, some people call it whatever...but we call it another level because we have to pick up our game and elevate it to another level. We have been doing that with eight, 6 am workouts, four weeks, two a week. Then we have had very hard and strenuous lifting, much running, much agility, much strength. We did yoga, which was really great. That’s phase one. Now it’s phase two, coming in, that’s spring ball. That’s the time when you get to work on your skills, holding up your game, try to improve the squad for next year and try to formulate the plan. Trying new things, new wrinkles, that’s what we are excited about now. But what we’re going to do is first...offensively, we need to get better on third downs, although we weren’t as bad as people think. Just statistically, we just lost key situations in a couple games but we need to improve our third downs offensively and by that I mean a short-yardage package. I really want to haul in on that. I still want to push the ball vertically down the field number two, because we think we have a strong-armed quarterback coming back in Jarrett Brown, so we really want to push that ball vertically downfield. Then we want to take advantage of all of our skills...we need to spread the wealth. With Patrick White gone, number three, we need to spread the wealth. So number one, improve short yardage, number two, push the ball vertically down the field and number three, spread the wealth since Pat’s departure. That’s offensively. Defensively, Daniel, we need to get off the field. We were not good, we were the number one team in America last year in the red zone—you know, keeping people out of the end zone—but not we were not good at time of possession or getting off the field. So first and foremost, I want to really stress three-and-outs, three-and-outs. We are going to hammer that and pound it into our guys' heads. Three-and-out, three-and-out, because we have to get off the field. Offensively we averaged 53 snaps a game last year, but we should be in the 60’s. That’s the defense. Offensively we had some drives, but the defense has to get off the field and give us the ball. So we really need to stress that. We also need to get a better blitz package. When you get a better blitz package, number three then, you’re going to have to play man-to-man coverage better. On defensive we're going to have to get three-and-outs and get off the field, develop a more consistent and more fun fire zone blitz package and number three, improve our man coverage. We have some good guys that can do it, we have some guys that are great at it but we've all got to get great at it so we can blitz more, that’s our forte. Kicking, we need to replace Pat McAfee, but how do you replace a guy that has done all that he has done? On kick-off coverage, we were number two in the nation, Daniel, on punts and number 117 out of 119 on kick-offs. I’m the guy coaching both of them so I should get a raise for one and probably knocked on the head for the other one.

(Laughs) How important is this spring to Jarrett Brown, both as a passer and in terms of taking over that leadership role after four seasons of winning under Pat White?

He is up against it. It is his ball. It’s his job to lose, he’s earned that right. I coached him here for three years before I became the head coach. All he’s ever done when he has gone in is won. Every game that he has started for Patrick White he has won. He has watched a lot of games for three years, studying Patrick's play. Really, for four years, but who knew Pat was going to be that good for four years when Jarrett came? I compliment him for staying, I compliment him for persevering. He is not Patrick White, he is a different player than Patrick White. But he is good leader, he leads in his own way. This is going to be a big spring for him.

Let’s get to the soap opera part of the segment. According to reports from Pro Day, you told teams Pat White would be a quarterback, so teams did not ask him to run routes. White said he didn’t run routes because he wasn’t asked to. What happened that day?

Pat White is a quarterback. Patrick White is a quarterback and that is what he’s going to be. He was pitching and catching, and being worked out and did a good job. I didn’t what him to pull anything, so if someone wanted him to run routes then they can come on in and work him out. All I know is he's going to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick and to those people who don’t think he can play quarterback, I just hope he never plays against them because he will beat them. I run this ship in Morgantown, and I had one guy come up to me and say they were looking at him as their third quarterback. I looked over at him and wanted to say, “Have you ever seen your first and second quarterback play?” But that’s not my role. They’ve got their job, I’ve got my job. My job is to protect my players. We have had the Denver Broncos in here to work Patrick out, and he ran routes for them after he threw. We had the New England Patriots in here, and he ran routes for them after he threw. But I’m not going to get that kid throwing and running all these drills, exhausting himself or hurting himself trying to be a receiver when he is a quarterback. I’ll say it again: people who don’t think he’s a quarterback, I hope you never have to play against him because he will beat you. That’s the end of the story.

I guess I don’t need to ask you what’s your take on the whole Pat White debate?

All these guys who sit in these TV booths, and there a lot of great guys many of whom are my friends, who keep on saying he’d be better as a receiver, they have never been on the sidelines and seen that fire in his eyes. I guess as long as they never have to play against him and lose, they never have to be accountable. I’m telling you guys, he’s a quarterback. He is the greatest winner in college football today. There are some NFL teams that agree with me and we’ll see when the Draft comes.

Tell me more about his intangibles. His leadership skills, I think because he is not that demonstrative and kind of quiet that gets overlooked a little bit.

I’ll tell you what. I don’t know about NFL locker rooms, but I know some NFL coaches really well. I have worked with some NFL coaches and I know they win because they have great locker rooms. First and foremost, before Patrick White even goes to the field, he will always be a positive influence in the locker room. Second, he will always be a positive influence in the community. Thirdly, he will be a great role model in society because he is a powerful man of faith. Now, with all that is going on in the world today, why somebody wouldn’t want this guy in the locker room, quarterback or receiver, I don’t get it. All I can tell is what he did for us. He is the greatest winner I've ever been around in my 37 years of coaching. He is the only guy that has won four college football games and three MVPs. He is a four-time bowl winner, and in three of them, he was MVP.

Kenny Britt had 12 for 151 yards, you held Donald Brown to a season low 82 yards, LeSean McCoy ran for 183 yards and Hakeem Nicks had his memorable performance with eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. I can bring these up because you went 3-1 in those games. Who was the most impressive player you went up against?

You talk about Kenny Britt, Mike Teel and those kids are great. Kenny Britt, I love watching him play, but didn’t like playing against him. Man he can play. He is going to have a great future. Donald Brown, what can you say about that guy? LeSean McCoy, holy cow! You talk about great backs, I mean, they are great backs. Hakeem Nicks, you know what I told the defense at halftime? You want to hear some great coaching, Daniel? I’m at halftime in Charlotte. I walk in, I never say much to the defense. I tell them, “Fellas, that number 88 out there, Hakeem Nicks, you don’t have one guy, two guys, or probably three guys that can cover him.” Then I looked at them and said, “Good luck.” We had to get him off the field somehow, then offensively we need to spread out wealth, have to stay out there on third downs and that makes us the better football team. Daniel, it’s all about intangibles. The great ones are always going to take it to you, the Britts, Browns, McCoys and Nickes. Matt Grothe, I just love watching him play. I don’t like playing against him but my God, the kid just wins. There are so many great players in the Big East, Tony Pike is another one. There are just so many great players that scare us tremendously. I have such great respect for these people. Then you look at Dan Hawkins, the quarterback out there in Colorado, I’m already thinking about him. There are so many great players we’re going to play this year, it’s scary. We have to step our game up. We have to take better control of the ball. We have to stay on the field offensively and get off the field defensively and try to play field position. We are not there yet either. We’re going to be a young football team, we’re going to be very young. We’re not nearly there. I think 2010, 2011, and 2012 are going to be very exciting for West Virginia football. Daniel, I’m telling you the God’s truth, I’m worried about 2009 because of how many new players in key positions we have, if that makes sense.

Back in 1995 you gave a kid named Mike Tomlin his first job in the coaching business at the Virginia Military Institute. What do you remember from your first impressions of meeting the now Super Bowl winning head coach?

I played against him in 1994. I have a warm spot in my heart for William & Mary because I coached there in 1981, 1982, and 1983, Michael was a senior captain with Shawn Knight on that 1994 William & Mary team that went to the playoffs. I was building the VMI program that first year. All I saw was a classy young man who could catch balls, block like Hines Ward, and played with such tenacity. He is just so tough, so dependable and just had fun. I watched him on film up to a game, after a game and I told my players, “You should just play like this guy”. Lo and behold, I got wind that he may want to go into coaching or law school, so I called up Jimmye Laycock, my old boss, and told him to tell me all about him. He told me, “Billy he’s everything you saw”. I told him to come up and visit me, so he came up and I talked him out of law school for a year and his Mother just about killed me, God bless her. She hugs me today for it today. I told him, “Come up here to VMI and coach for us”. I told him, “You’re going to be a coach”. First meeting, I come down there in the spring or fall, he’s 23 years old now and just played against these guys for four years. He said, “Coach, do I meet in there with coach Sherman?“, our quarterbacks coach, I said, “No Michael, you have your own room”. All I did was pat him on the backside and told him to make them play like you did. Let me tell you, I have walked by that meeting room, never had to poke my head in, never wanted to poke my head in because I wanted to give him that security. That guy coached back then exactly how he does now. A ball of fire, enthusiastic, a guy who knew what he was talking about. The best the receivers ever played at Virginia Military Institute was when Mike Tomlin was coaching them in 1995. We beat some good teams that year, including a big upset at Liberty. We beat some really good teams. Michael Tomlin was one of the reasons for that and I will forever be grateful. I told Hines Ward one day after a practice in camp, “If he had your God-given speed, he’d still be playing and you’d be coaching”. That’s how good Michael Tomlin was. A tremendous competitor and that’s why Mike Tomlin is successful with the Steelers and a great fit for the greatest organization in football. It’s a great marriage. But that’s why Mike Tomlin is who he is, and he’s just been that way since he was a young fella and I’m just so lucky to be a part of his life. I gave a guy a job and the rest is history. I’m proud to know him and honored to be his friend.

Photo Credit: WVU Sports Communication