Mountain-Cheers: WVU Wins Fiesta Bowl

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Somewhere here in the desert, Bill Stewart is probably hugging a cactus right now.

That's because he's already hugged every living human who's crossed his path. Every West Virginia player he interim-coached in the Mountaineers' thunderous 48-28 Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma. Every assistant coach. Every sheriff assigned to walk him on and off the field. Every fan, woman and child wearing blue and gold.

Reporter with a question for Bill? Have a hug first. Then pause while he thanks you for all you do for college football. Then be prepared for him to talk your ear off.

So I figure he's squeezing a Saguaro at the moment, and complimenting it on the sharpness of its needles.

West Virginia is hugging him back. According to sources, he will be named the Mountaineers' next head coach at a news conference at 11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Already a relentlessly cheery fellow, the guy they call Stew has extra reason to be jubilant right now. This dismantling of the Sooners completed the greatest on-the-job interview since Steve Fisher won the 1989 NCAA Tournament as the interim coach at Michigan.

Oops, sorry to say the M-word. Michigan. That's the school which pirated Rich Rodriguez out of Morgantown, sending the Mountain State into anarchy.

Rodriguez's departure was supposed to kill the Mountaineers' chances to win this Fiesta Bowl against fourth-ranked and heavily favored Oklahoma. Instead, it let the nation meet Sunny Bill Stewart, the 55-year-old football lifer who probably terminated what had been a painful and divisive West Virginia search for a new coach.

I sidled up to Mountaineers athletic director Ed Pastilong in the closing minutes on the boisterous WVU sidelines and asked the obvious question: Does this result alter your coaching search?

"Yes," Pastilong said, before allowing himself a heartfelt chuckle.

Forgive the man. He's been border-to-border besieged for his perceived mishandling of Rodriguez, and for his efforts to find a replacement. His candidate pool (Butch Jones, Terry Bowden, Doc Holliday) hadn't sent many pulses racing. Having just watched his alma mater earn what most people think ranks among the top one or two victories in school history had to make him feel better than he has since November.

"He's the greatest interim coach I've ever seen," Pastilong continued, when he'd finally stopped laughing. "And he has been through a long interview."

A few feet away, school president Michael Garrison was grinning broadly as well. But also playing his cards closer to the presidential vest.

"We're going to let him enjoy the winning of this game," Garrison said.

But he will be a candidate for the head-coaching position?

"Bill Stewart will be part of our program no matter what," Garrison said. "Period. End of sentence."

But hardly end of story. Because the Mountaineers players couldn't step forward fast enough to declare their support for Stewart as the next head coach.

"He's the glue that kept us together," declared senior fullback Owen Schmitt, whose 57-yard touchdown rumble shocked Oklahoma. "West Virginia would be stupid not to hire him as head coach."

"If I had a T-shirt, it would said 'Stew for the head job,' " said kicker Pat McAfee, who punted brilliantly and made two field goals. "Front and back."

And splendid quarterback Pat White, who flashed through Oklahoma's defense for 150 rushing yards and threw for 176 more, declared from a podium at field level that Stewart deserves the job.

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