MORGANTOWN - All but buried in West Virginia's decision to gradually replace Bill Stewart as the school's football coach over the course of the next year has been perhaps the linchpin that allowed the school to do so without taking a financial hit.
That, of course, would be the pending NCAA investigation into the program.
More than a month ago, on Nov. 14, Stewart agreed to and signed a modified contract that allowed WVU to eventually hire Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as his replacement. Holgorsen last week was named as West Virginia's offensive coordinator next season under Stewart and he will replace Stewart as the head coach in 2012.
In doing so, however, West Virginia officials first had to convince Stewart to surrender the final two years of his existing contract, one that would have paid him in excess of $2 million in 2012 and 2013, combined. The school apparently did so by threatening to void that contract and the liquidated damages clause within it based on the NCAA violations that targeted Stewart.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck Sunday refused to acknowledge that, but he did not deny it.
"I can't go into coach Stewart's state of mind and all of that. I wouldn't want to speculate on that,'' Luck said. "But in terms of the NCAA [investigation], my comment would be that I can't really comment on that because we're still in the summary disposition proceedings.''
Last August, the NCAA announced that it had uncovered five major rules violations and one secondary violation in the West Virginia football program. The major violations generally concerned unauthorized and excessive personnel performing coaching duties within the program, practices that originated under former coach Rich Rodriguez and continued under Stewart.
The most damaging of the accusations as applied to Stewart, though, is that he "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program.''
Stewart's contract explicitly states that the university reserves the right to void his contract "without further obligation'' for any of six causes. The first of those causes is the commission of "a serious or major violation, whether intentional or negligent,'' of NCAA rules.
In other words, the school felt it was within its rights to terminate Stewart's contract at any time without paying the coach the buyout stipulated.