OK, there have now been two instances in the span of less than 48 hours in which Bill Stewart has been an escape from his usual self --- in which he has been short, terse, has largely used one-word answers with the media, kind of went after longtime beat writer Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette and has just been, well, not his jolly old self at news conferences.
The first happened in the immediate wake of West Virginia's loss at LSU, in the postgame press conference and can be seen here: VIDEO
The second instance happened during the Big East Conference media call on Monday morning and can be heard here: AUDIO
Now, this is tricky, very tricky.
Especially because normally events like this -- a tiff between a coach and the media -- are inside baseball sort of things, and the public really doesn't care. But in this instance, Stewart has made his mark on being so engaging, on being a man with such charm and charisma, that I think the public has taken notice. Check that, I know the public has taken notice, as I have received a lot of emails. Also, there is another quotient that makes it a bit tricky: In the postgame, Stewart kind-of, sort-of was put off by a question that I asked. I asked about if Geno Smith might have been rattled some in the late stretches of the game, as evidenced by him lining up under the guard (not the center) on a key play.
Stewart denied it happened.
To be honest, I didn't want to push it that much that night, as I was on a super-tight deadline and it wasn't a huge portion of my story. But it happened, it did. It wasn't the biggest deal in the world, but it happened --- I just watched the tape again.
For the record, also know this: Bill Stewart and myself have a brilliant working relationship, and it will remain that way. He is someone I trust, and I know I am someone he trusts, within the confines of what we do interacting with each other professionally. And if you have read my Q&A for any length of time, you know that I often crush the detractors who say he is not the man for this job.
But, back to the topic at hand, the new Stew and what to make of all of this.
It is one thing to be miffed directly after a loss, to be in a state of not wanting to talk after miscues were the difference between beating an SEC team on the road, and losing a close game. So, in a small sense, I can understand Stewart being short and testy in the postgame (although I will not budge that my question about Smith and Mr. Hickman's about Noel Devine's injury were both extremely valid).
Where I can kind of understand Stewart's behavior late Saturday night, I can't find any rationale for it Monday morning. Quite simply, and I know this loss was tough on him, Bill Stewart needs to realize the media is not out to get him, no one is there to "tear apart the program" or whatever it was he mentioned.
Can the media ask tough, and maybe even intrustive, questions after a loss? Sure.
Can they be a pain in the rear sometimes? Absolutely?
But, as a Division I head football coach, does this all come with the job? Yep.
Perhaps everyone is just making a bit much of this (me included) and this could be turned into a positive; it could be looked at as Bill Stewart kind of shedding the aw-shucks public image for a tougher, harder stance with the media. I've said more than one time that I like this "new Stew," the one with a little edge to him. But, he also needs to learn which battles to pick, and one very, very important fundamental --- most media members aren't in that room or asking him questions with any agenda, rather, we are just doing our jobs.
And again, all the words above would never have been written had this hadn't been such an escape from character for this man. Maybe, just maybe, it also shows Stewart had so much invested in that LSU game, had so much energy poured into attempting to win it, that he is a bit drained right now ---especially knowing he had an off week after it.
So what is there be made out of all of this? Probably, most notably this: Even the head coach of a major college football team, even a guy who makes $800K a year, even a guy who is one of the nicest men in sports -- all of sports -- can have a tough moment or two when his job is to be a cool commander of a big time operation. That doesn't change who he is fundamentally; that doesn't change what is at the core.
Did Stewart handle Saturday night's press conference wrong? Maybe.
The Big East Conference call on Monday? Most would say yes.
What does everyone do now? We move on -- that's it.