Leave it to Mike Leach to give voice to our innermost thoughts when it comes to the state of West Virginia football. When asked about the burgeoning Jersey Shore aspect of the program, he said it sounded "underhanded and hillbilly."
Those were his words Tuesday on XM Radio, not ours. Still, excuse us while we snicker. No, laugh out loud. In a widening scandal where you don't know who to believe, Leach's words are as good a starting point as any.
The emerging implication is that coach Bill Stewart or his wife, or both, have dropped a dime on coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. We don't know for sure, or at all, and that's troubling. Mostly for Stewart but also for those reporting it. A May 29 column in the Huntington W.V. Herald-Dispatch alleged Holgorsen had been involved in three-to-six alcohol-related incidents in a six-month period. The column also said Holgorsen came from Oklahoma State to Morgantown "with a reputation of being a partier."
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That's when I winced in considering whether to wade in on the subject. Leach changed my mind. This is West Virginia, a school that does have a certain rep as a party school. The same man, AD Oliver Luck, who is looking into the allegations is the same guy who called the game-day atmosphere at his school "raunchy." To change that atmosphere he recently, and brilliantly, pushed through a proposal to start beer sales as a way to control the alcohol-fueled scene.
Alcohol seems to be the jumping off point again. First, define "partier." Heck, define a source. There isn't a definitive one in the column that damned Holgorsen. One of the few things we know for sure on that subject is that Holgorsen was asked to leave a casino on May 18. He apologized. Meanwhile, West Virginia says there are "blatant inaccuracies" in the latest reports regarding Holgorsen's conduct.
The latest bomb dropped this week: A Pittsburgh sportswriter became somewhat of a smoking gun on the subject when he told a radio station that Stewart wanted local media to "dig up dirt" on Holgorsen. Why that local media didn't write that at the time is as bad as any alleged conduct by Stewart.
That's not the story anyway. The story is West Virginia standing by its coach-in-waiting while Stewart waits to see if he has a job tomorrow. The school already may have cause to fire Stewart once the school roots out the rats.
Let's be precise: West Virginia doesn't want Stewart around. Holgorsen is the future. The AD that hired Stewart is no longer around. The afterglow of that 2008 Fiesta Bowl win when Stewart was given a battlefield promotion after beating the Sooners has faded. Holgorsen is the flavor of the week. Who the hell cares that, as a responsible adult of legal age, that flavor might be Coors Light from time to time?
Again, define partier. That's a loaded word with implications. Perhaps legal ones.
Meanwhile, it's becoming increasingly clear that it is over for Stewart at West Virginia in an inevitable Tressel-esque way. The man has won nine games in each of his three full seasons. But he followed Rich Rodriguez who proved it was possible to lead the Mountaineers to the brink of a national championship game. Stewart turns 59 on Monday. Holgorsen is a hot, young (39), offensive mind coming off a bang-up stay with Oklahoma State.
Sometimes an employer doesn't need a reason. For one of the most likeable guys in the business, the university has determined Stewart's usefulness is over. It's just a matter of time and what shape it's going to take. Every day this scandal lingers, there are the Leach-like temptations to play the West Virginia stereotype card.
If the school can prove the current coach is ripping the future coach behind his back well, read Stewart's contract:
West Virginia "specifically reserves the right to terminate this Agreement without further obligation at any time for cause." It's boilerplate language in most coaching contracts. It's also complicated.
West Virginia remains under NCAA investigation. The school is accused of five major violations. Stewart himself has been charged with "failure to monitor." Essentially, everyone agrees to those facts as the NCAA considers summary disposition of the case. West Virginia is awaiting final word.
Had he been fired after last season without modifying his contract when Holgorsen came into the picture, Stewart would have stood to collect $2.5 million in remaining salary. That led to one of the weirdest coaching situations ever. Stewart agreed to adjust his contract -- coaching for one year with Holgorsen as his offensive coordinator before stepping down.
Luck may have been inspired by the coach-in-waiting transitions at Oregon and Wisconsin. The difference at those places is that Barry Alvarez and Mike Bellotti hand-picked their successors. We can probably all agree that Stewart isn't happy with the situation at West Virginia. The man essentially became a witness to his own demise with one huge chip in his pocket. The school cannot fire him for NCAA violations in the current case according to language in the modified deal, according to a school spokesman.
Ah, but if Stewart happened to rat out his successor that might be a different story. That leaves West Virginia football in a confusing and ugly place. Holgorsen's waiting-to-be coach may not be much longer. Stewart faces an uncomfortable final season, if he lasts that long.
Luck continues to investigate while one strange aspect remains certain. No matter how this turns out, he has made sure that beer will continue to flow at West Virginia.