MORGANTOWN - As it turns out, Bill Stewart and West Virginia's football team were playing for more than a share of the Big East championship and a BCS bowl berth over the final weeks of the season.
They were playing for Stewart's job. And although the players didn't know it, Stewart did.
The fact is, he has known since Nov. 14 - the day after the Mountaineers began their four-game win streak with a victory over Cincinnati - that he was probably coaching for his job. He also knew that even if he managed to keep it, it would be for just one more year.
Oliver Luck said as much Thursday when he came clean on all things Stewart and Dana Holgorsen, the latter being the offensive guru from Oklahoma State who has been thrust upon Stewart as his offensive coordinator in 2011 and then will replace Stewart as WVU's head coach in 2012.
Luck met with Stewart, Stewart's advisor and the school's legal counsel more than a full month ago and spelled it all out.
"At that point Coach Stewart was informed that I was not satisfied with the direction that the program was going and that changes would be made,'' Luck said.
This wasn't just an informal meeting to hash things out and set a direction, either. At that meeting, Stewart agreed to and signed a modified contract.
"That agreement called for two options, one of which was Coach Stewart resigning after this season, the second of which was Coach Stewart staying on for next season,'' Luck said. "Obviously we've decided on the option of him staying on next season as our head football coach.''
That decision came following the four-game win streak at the end of the season, one that brought the Mountaineers that shared Big East championship, a third straight nine-win season under Stewart and nearly a through-the-back-door BCS bowl berth. Stewart had no say in it, aside from what he managed to accomplish on the field.
"That decision was mine and it was made at the conclusion of the season,'' Luck said. "I thought Coach Stewart did a marvelous job toward the second half of the year.
"We went on a great win streak and I thought he deserved the head coaching position for the 2011 season.''
All of that, however, raises at least a couple of compelling questions.
First is why, if Luck had decided a change had to be made - and there was already paperwork signed to make that change - would a strong finish make a difference? Holgorsen had already been targeted. Luck said he talked to him on Nov. 23 for the first time, which was three days before WVU beat Pitt. Even if Holgorsen had gotten away (perhaps to coach at Pitt?), Luck was going to find someone else. He had not only told Stewart that, he had convinced him to sign a modified contract.
So why was all of this left hanging? Why, if Luck had decided that a change needed to be made, was there any reason not to simply fire Stewart and get on with it?