Chuck FInder | 8:58 a.m. Aug. 29
Davis Babb, the man who was the Virginia Military Institute athletic director responsible for firing him almost a dozen years ago, maintains that he'll be rooting for his former employee when Bill Stewart's second go-round starts tomorrow against Villanova.
"I'm really glad he got the opportunity to be the head coach at West Virginia," Babb, fired at VMI two years after Stewart in 1996, said over the telephone this week from Texas Christian, where he serves as associate athletic director for development. "I know he's going to do a great job there. I think he's a great choice at West Virginia. And he's been training all of his professional career for this. I'm really pulling for him."
Details of Stewart's exit can be found in today's story, but here's a little-publicized kernel of information: The newfound VMI superintendent at the time, the controversial Josiah Bunting III, between 1996 and 1998 spent roughly $500,000 million in payouts to fire Stewart, successor Ted Cain two years later and then Babb the AD.
Of Stewart's work at VMI, Babb said: "He came in and really brought a lot of people together, in terms of instituting a great work ethic. He embraced the alumni and the coaches from former years there, really did a great job of bringing together people around the program. He was really making great strides. He was winning some games. Crowds were coming back. He had a good staff in place. He was giving them all he had. I do think he did a good job there, I really do. He was a great fit at VMI, he really was. Believed in what the school stood for."
Babb declined to discuss Stewart's departure: "I want to focus on what's happened since then. Knowing his family and knowing him, I really proud of what he's done to basically get himself to this point, where he could be a head coach at that level of a program. I remain a fan of his and obviously cheered on the team at the bowl game," referring to the Fiesta that caused Gov. Joe Manchin, standing on the stadium sidelines, and the search committee, primarily Athletic Director Ed Pastilong, to want to remove the interim tag from Stewart and officially make him the head coach hours later.
Two other Stew ingredients heretofore missing:
* Ever the recruiter, Stewart escorted the son of friend and former fellow assistant Danny Smith around the WVU campus this summer and essentially won over a student who isn't a football player. To hear Smith tell it, the head coach "had a lot to do with [son Jason] going there." While touring the Rec Center, Stewart counseled Jason Smith about a few local establishments to avoid and gave the kid the cell number to reach the Mountaineers' head coach, something perhaps no other non-football freshman on campus possesses. Stewart did such a bang-up recruiting job, "In fact, I went down there and bought me a dang West Virginia shirt," joked the father, the Washington Redskins' special teams coach. Added the elder Smith, "Bill's a very disciplined person. He's a very disciplined person in his own lifestyle. He'll let them have fun, and he'll have fun with them. But there are certain rules and guidelines to live by, and guys won't misconstrue it. . . . Another one of his strengths is making the people around him feel good. If you've got talent and you feel good, you can go a long way. You have a tendency to play better, and you may play better than you think you are."
* Receiver Tito Gonzales from earlier in camp: "The most dramatic change is that it's a lot better atmosphere here. It's a lot more relaxed. . . , isn't too tense. You don't worry about making mistakes, which makes [mistakes] inevitable."
Now, back to Ray Fittipaldo's national games to watch . . .