UPDATE 5/25/12 @ 11 a.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Hundreds of family, friends, former teammates and coaches came together one last time to honor West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart.
A private funeral was held at Saint Frances de Sales Catholic Church in Morgantown, Friday. Afterward, friends and family will travel to his hometown and Magnolia High School. The hearse will be on the football field for a final tribute to Stewart, who died this week of a heart attack at 59.
Tributes from former players, game officials and fans have focused less on Stewart's record -- 28-12 in three seasons -- and more on his warm personality.
Stewart led the Mountaineers to a surprising Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma in January 2008 and won the head coach's job immediately afterward. But he couldn't match the results of predecessor Rich Rodriguez.
Stewart resigned last summer and was replaced by Dana Holgorsen.
It was a very emotional day for family, friends and former teammates of Coach Bill Stewart.
"Bill was like the greatest guy ever,” said Mark Tampoya, friend. “I mean, always had time for you, a true gentleman."
"He was just down to earth and I don't care where you had made it, he would always recognize you,” said Terry Keenan, family friend. “He never forgot anyone. I wouldn't have driven up here if I didn't think that much of him."
Terry Keenan drove all the way from Cedar Grove to Morgantown to pay his respects, and he wasn’t at a loss for words. On the back window of his car, he posted a phrase from Stewart’s famous speech, “Leave No Doubt.”
"He was more than a football coach,” he said. “He meant so much to so many people."
So much that thousands of people stopped by the Morgantown Events Center, where Stewart’s viewing was held. The media wasn’t allowed to have cameras inside the facility, but wsaz.com did get to see the room where Coach Stewart’s viewing was being held and it was full of flowers and pictures. There was also two monitors showing a slide show of pictures of Stewart, as well.
Some of the players Stewart coached even stopped by to pay their respects.
"Coach stew gave me my first opportunity to play,” said former WVU football player, Quincy Wilson. “He was our special teams coach and he was the one who before i got the chance to start running the ball, he was the guy who put me on the field. I'll always have a debt to coach stew in the aspect."
A man who touched the lives of not only the players on the field, but anyone he met.
"He was a great guy,” said family friend, Jim Romito. “He was a good friend. I'm going to miss him."
A huge loss for Mountaineer County, but clearly a man who leaves behind a lasting legacy.
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday however, it’s closed to the public.
Thursday, May 24
Public Viewing: 2 p.m to 9 p.m.
Morgantown Event Center
2 Waterfront Place
Morgantown, WV 26501
Friday, May 25
Funeral: 10 a.m.
(Private Mass for family, close friends, coaches and former players)
St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church
1 Guthrie Lane
Morgantown, WV 26505
The funeral procession will be leaving St. Francis de Sales at 2 p.m. on Friday headed to his hometown of New Martinsville, W.Va. There will be an honorary salute at the Magnolia High School Football Field at 4 p.m.
Coach Stewart will be buried at the North View Cemetery in New Martinsville.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Bill Stewart Memorial Community Fund, C/O the Greater Morgantown Community Trust, P.O. Box 409, Morgantown, WV 26507.
McCulla Funeral Home, 770 Fairmont Road, Morgantown, W.Va., is in charge of arrangements and online condolences may be sent to the family at www.McCulla.com.
The 59-year-old football standout passed away after suffering a heart attack while playing in a golf tournament at Stonewall Jackson Resort near Weston. His sudden death took faithful football fans by surprise.
"It's going to take a few years just to get back, just to recuperate from this," said fan James Anderson. "All the players are going to mourn. Even the fans are going to mourn."
The news gave many fans a chance to reflect on Stewart's life and career.
"He came right in after [Rich Rodriguez] left and instantly became a hero," said fan Emily Halen. "And now that he's gone, a lot of Mountaineers are sad. He will be greatly missed."
Robert Abston agreed. "He gave the program one of its all-time signature wins in the Fiesta Bowl," he said. "And he did everything honorably, which you can't say about every program out there."
That 2007 Fiesta Bowl championship made him a hero across the state. And although his coaching days weren't always smooth, fans say they'll mostly remember his spirit and his strong morals.
"He was really a nice person," said fan Mollie Tabit. "He was too young to die."
Stewart passed away Monday afternoon after collapsing and having an apparent heart attack during a golf game at the Stonewall Resort.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin
“West Virginia truly lost one of its best citizens today, but my friend Bill Stewart leaves behind a lifetime of memories and love for our state. It has been my privilege to be able to call Bill my friend ever since his days playing ball at Fairmont State. From the moment I met him, I knew that you never had to worry about Bill’s enthusiasm; he had enough for all of us. Bill was a proud West Virginian in every sense of the word, and he was the best cheerleader this state ever had. For me and Gayle, our hearts go out to Bill’s wife, Karen, and his son, Blaine. I hope that they know just how much Bill meant to the people of this state and how much we all will miss him.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
"Coach Stewart brought a new found pride to the Mountaineer faithful as he led the football team in both competition and character. Joanne and I are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Coach Stewart and offer our sympathies to his family. Together, we ask that Mountaineers everywhere keep the Stewart family in your thoughts and prayers during this sad time."
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller
“I was saddened to learn about the death of Bill Stewart this afternoon. Bill loved West Virginia, and he loved the student-athletes he worked with. My heart aches for his wife, Karen, and their son, Blaine, and we should all keep the Stewart family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito
“My family and I are deeply saddened to hear that Bill Stewart died unexpectedly today. Always kind and humorous, Bill was a loving husband, father and coach. As a respected West Virginia football coach, Bill touched the lives of hundreds of student athletes. He could not have been nicer to me and my family whenever we cheered on his team at Mountaineer games. He will be truly missed, and our hearts and prayers go to his family. He will forever be remembered in Mountaineer nation.”
Congressman Nick Rahall
“From New Martinsville to the world stage of the Fiesta Bowl, Bill Stewart was a winner. As importantly, he was equally if not more proud of being a native of the Mountain State. Leave no doubt. No doubt. Coach Stewart was a mentor, a man of character. He will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
Marshall Football Coach Doc Holliday
"It's just a sad day for West Virginia and West Virginia football. Bill was a good person. Thoughts and prayers with his family."
Former Marshall Football Coach Bob Pruett
"Bill and I coached together at Marshall University with Sonny Randle. What a great guy. I really feel for Karen (his wife) and everyone who knew Bill. He was a fine man."
WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck
“Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer. His enthusiasm and passion for his state’s flagship University was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing.”
WVU President Jim Clements
“Mountaineer nation is truly saddened today to learn of the untimely passing of Coach Bill Stewart. Our hearts go out to the Stewart family and Bill's many friends. He was a compassionate, energetic, and kind person. He loved his family dearly and was extremely community-oriented and very giving of his time. He will be greatly missed.”
WVU Football Coach Dana Holgorsen
"Like all of us in the West Virginia community, I am shocked and saddened by the passing of Coach Stewart. The State of West Virginia, our University and our football program has lost a true Mountaineer who gave his native state university a decade of coaching service and a lifetime of guidance and inspiration to thousands of young men over a 33-year career. Though Coach Stewart achieved many great milestones on the field, we will most remember his kindness and compassion. Our football family expresses our deepest sympathy to Karen, Blaine and the extended Stewart family."
Former WVU Football Coach Don Nehlan
“I’m very saddened. I hired Bill in my last year when I was close to retiring. Bill was such a great Mountaineer and a great addition to our staff. It was a terrific hire -- he did a great job not only for me, but for Rich and as a head coach. Bill was such a great husband and a great father. Bill Stewart was a great Mountaineer. My heart goes out to Karen and Blaine.”
WV Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
"Like you I am heart broken about news of Bill Stewart. When he would see me, he would say, 'There's our Mountaineer.' Prayers to his family."
WVU Basketball Coach Bob Huggins
"My prayers go out to a wonderful man and my friend. We lost a great Mountaineer and a true West Virginian. Coach Stewart, we will miss you."
Stewart was 59-years-old.
Stewart was playing golf at the Stonewall Resort Monday with former WVU AD Eddie Pastilong when he collapsed.
WVU has released the following statement:
"Former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart has died this afternoon from an apparent heart attack. No further details are available at this time."
Stewart was named head football coach to the Mountaineers in 2007 after then coach Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan.
He'd gone 28-12 in three seasons after taking over for Rodriguez but failed to earn a Bowl Championship Series berth.
Stewart resigned in 2011 amidst controversy of bringing in new coach Dana Holgorsen on board.
Stewart was 59-years-old.
Stewart was playing golf at the Stonewall Resort with former WVU AD Eddie Pastilong when he collapsed.
He was rushed to Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston where he's being treated Monday afternoon.
His condition is unknown.
Stewart was playing in the tournament as part of the West Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association’s annual golf outing.
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