This is what Coach Bill Stewart performed in the past few days that have followed the 16-13 loss at Connecticut. Stewart examined “all phases, from me to the assistants to the players to what have you, what we’ve done good, what we’ve done OK, what we haven’t done good.”
This was the topic for the first nine-and-a-half minutes of Stewart’s weekly press conference. Unprompted, as you can see.
My first reaction was, “Of course.” As in, it had to be done with the current state of affairs.
Not so, though. I asked if that were the case and Stewart said it was a standard procedure and with the open week coming right now, the timing was ideal.
Boy, was it. Truth be told, Stewart couldn’t conduct that press conference without addressing what’s going on – and ideally the conversation would be of his own initiation. It’s one thing to be dragged into discourse about what’s going wrong on your watch. It’s another to commence that chat.
At a time when he’s being accused of lacking or shirking accountability, Stewart took that topic by the ears and said, on a few occasions, he needs to do a better job.
“At the top of the team is the coach, the head coach, and that’s me. I’m the CEO of this football program. I need to do a better job.”
The whole thing lasted fewer than 28 minutes and my immediate response was “Good for him.” Not that I was proud of him or anything like that, but I thought it was a good day for him. It was something he needed to do. He took control when it appeared things were out of control. He directly discussed problems when many thought he saw no problems.
Essentially, he showed he’s very aware of everything that’s happening in his house. I was captivated as I watched it happen, I must admit.
Then I tried to write a story. I listened to my recording and transcribed it even after taking notes as it happened. I talked to some people. I walked around the house. I wrote a story. It wasn’t easy.
I’m even having a hard time typing this post.
My delayed reaction was a little different. I was left thinking, “Well, it had to happen. And it happened. But what happened?”
Stewart is the head of the program and he did acknowledge that and say it begins with him and, again, he has to do a better job.
Stewart said the offense cannot turn the ball over with such regularity, must protect the passer (or come up with ways to keep Geno out of danger) and needs to remember to line up in a legal manner on every snap.
The defense is “impressive,” he said, with its rankings in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense, pass defense and sacks, but it, too, has flaws. Those Mountaineers must make better open-field tackles, turn over opponents more often and contain the opposition’s drives when they begin deep in their own territory.
Nothing very riveting, or even new, in there.
He did arch my brow once. I asked him about kickoff returns (!) and he said punt block/return and kickoff returns have been “terrible, absolutely terrible.”
Strong words, but still … OK.
Stewart was long on discoveries and short on cures. Don’t get me wrong, please. I think he did something he absolutely needed to do and stood right next to the fire and felt the burn. There was no avoiding that. It didn’t even seem to me he was uncomfortable or unwilling in either his comments, our questions or his answers to our questions.
Why, even when he said he’d rather not answer a question, he still gave an answer.
But Stewart didn’t put the fire out when, I’d wager, even his least supportive fans wanted just that. He maybe even fanned the flames and suggested perhaps the whole plan on offense was a little flawed. He told us of a discussion with offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
“I grilled him and he grilled me. We went through every play, looked at every player, and I said, ‘Are the plays you’re calling … can that guy do that? Can our left tackle do it? Can our back do it? Can our wide out do it? Can the quarterback handle it?’”
Hey, maybe that’s fair game at a time like this — a time when you have to look at everything or even a time when you normally look at everything — but that was about the most compelling thing I can take out of that press conference.
I used to play chess with my sister all the time and she’d make a move and I’d go, “You sure you want to do that?” Not because it was the right move, but because I knew it wasn’t.
Don’t expect great changes, though. You might see more running by Eu because Stewart thinks it worked well and opened things up, but Noel is still the guy and Clarke is still the backup and Stewart reminded everyone his team’s offense wasn’t very far from Big East leading Pitt in scoring average. Never mind it’s seventh in the eight-team conference — and a not-so-small 4.5 points off — and inflated by Coastal Carolina and UNLV. Block a little better, he said, and things can change.
“Maybe we’ve asked them to do things they couldn’t do. Maybe we thought they were better. That’s why we’re going to continue to coach them hard and ask them to play hard and hope they can take it in a constructive and positive manner.”
It occurred to me later this seems little or even a lot like your basketball team last season. Eventually Devin Ebanks stopped shooting 3 pointers and Truck Bryant stopped driving to the basket and Kevin Jones nailed outside jumpers and John Flowers lived by the rim, so on and so forth.
Stewart can’t make great changes in personnel or application, but can succeed in altering the approach. He never said it — and, in fact, went out of his way to say he wasn’t saying it — but the players have to do a better job with the plan the coaches have to do a better job preparing.
“Let me tell you about being a player, because I was a player,” he said. “If you’re supposed to make a block, make it to the best of your ability. If you’re supposed to hang onto the ball, do it to the best of your ability. If you’re supposed to be somewhere in a formation or in motion, do it the best you can. If you have deep third coverage, cover your deep third.
“Now, if someone thinks I’ve been pointing fingers at my players, that’s wrong. The players would never tell you that’s how it is. (Working together) is what a team does. It starts with Bill Stewart. It starts with the coaches. I’m going to grill them, believe be, and then we’ll go to the players and ask them, ‘Just do what you can to the best of your abilities. Play hard. That’s all we’re asking you.’”
Stewart succeeded in reminding everyone who was in charge. He stated he was aware of the problems and everyone would work to change them. It happened. It needed to happen. What really happened was he produced the mold for the next time he speaks on the topic.