- Associated Press - Monday, May 21, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart, who was hailed as Rich Rodriguez’s successor but wound up leaving the school in a messy split, died Monday of what athletic department officials said was an apparent heart attack. He was 59.

Stewart’s family notified the university and said Stewart had been out golfing with the longtime friend who hired him as head coach, former athletic director Ed Pastilong. West Virginia spokesman Michael Fragale said he had no further details, and Pastilong couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“Coach Stewart was a rock-solid West Virginian and a true Mountaineer,” athletic director Oliver Luck said in a statement released by the university. “His enthusiasm and passion for his state’s flagship university was infectious. We join all Mountaineers in mourning his passing.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, who was governor at the time Stewart became head coach, said Stewart was a longtime friend who “leaves behind a lifetime of memories and love for our state.”

Bill was a proud West Virginian in every sense of the word,” Manchin said, “and he was the best cheerleader this state ever had.”

Stewart went 28-12 in three seasons after taking over when Rodriguez left for Michigan after the 2007 regular season, but resigned last summer and was replaced by Dana Holgorsen.

In December 2007, Mountaineer fans unleashed their fury on Rodriguez for breaking his contract early and taking the Michigan job. He left the Mountaineers not long after a painful loss to rival Pittsburgh cost them a shot at the national championship and two weeks before the Fiesta Bowl game against Oklahoma, taking recruits and assistants with him.

It was Stewart, a deeply religious family man, who stepped in and guided the team to a surprising 48-28 victory over the Sooners.

In the euphoric aftermath, he was given the job full-time - to the surprise of many - but the Mountaineers didn’t go to another BCS bowl under his leadership and Stewart couldn’t match the production of Rodriguez.