W. Va. tries to stay focused

Associated Press


All the emotions Bill Stewart has reserved the last few weeks will be tough to control when he takes the field again as West Virginia’s coach.

While he still has one more season at the helm, part of his staff is being dismantled to make room for coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen. That makes the Champs Sports Bowl tonight against North Carolina State the last time Stewart will be together with some assistants.

“That’s a personal matter,” he said, taking a deep breath. “That is in my heart.”

The bowl game is the first test of how the slow coaching swap might effect the No. 22 Mountaineers (9-3). Stewart is being forced out — just not until 2012 — with Holgorsen, Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator, taking over at the same position next year at West Virginia.

As if that wasn’t enough, three players — including starting center Joe Madsen — won’t participate in the game because they failed to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

“I don’t have any problem focusing,” Stewart said. “My job as the CEO of this program is to make sure the staff and the players are focused. I do not talk about distractions.”

N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien is no stranger to coaching changes.

While at Boston College, he faced Arizona State in the Aloha Bowl in Bruce Snyder’s finale in 2000. He also went against Dan Hawkins in his last game at Boise State in 2005. Nobody benefited more than O’Brien with all the emotions — his teams won both.

“I hope I’m never in that situation. That’s a tough one to have to be in,” O’Brien said.