Slur incident at VMI sets WVU's Stewart on defensive

West Virginia administrators on Thursday defended their new football coach, expressing complete satisfaction with Bill Stewart's explanation for his use of a racial slur at Virginia Military Institute 11 years ago.

At practice in 1996, Stewart used a racial slur aimed at a black player, who was, according to the then-VMI head coach, "hot dogging and show boating."

Stewart called him over for a private conversation, one-on-one in a low voice. Stewart said he told the player: "Don't let your actions give people reason to call you a n-----."

"We are fully aware of the situation at Virginia Military Institute and have been since coach Stewart arrived at West Virginia in 1999," Mountaineer athletic director Ed Pastilong said. "We are fully satisfied with the explanation. West Virginia University has complete confidence ... in Bill Stewart."

President Michael Garrison issued a vote of confidence Thursday to the new Mountaineer coach.

"I received a call today from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin today, expressing his enthusiasm for our hiring of Bill Stewart. He has great respect, as do I, for coach Stewart," Garrison said.

Tomlin, a former VMI assistant (1995) under Stewart who is African-American, and several black West Virginia players -- including QB Pat White -- championed Stewart as the guy who should be their coach.

At the time of the incident,
Stewart said he also told the player: "All my life, I've been trying to shed the West Virginia country redneck image. Don't give people that opportunity."

Stewart said the player brought the incident to the attention of administrators at VMI, and they asked him about it. He acknowledged what he said and did not lie, although he said no one else was privy to the conversation but himself and the player.

By the end of November it had become a bigger issue with the administration. He was called in and told he and his staff would be fired. Stewart said he'd resign for personal reasons if they spared the staff. They agreed.

"I took a year's salary and walked," Stewart said, on Dec. 9, 1996. He went home to see his mom and dad in New Martinsville, W.Va., and the story hit the paper the next day.

Stewart acknowledged this week he had mellowed since his difficult years at VMI, which ended with his resignation in Dec. 1996 amid reports over his controversial comment. He spoke Thursday about whether this 11-year-old incident should have any effect on his ability to do his job at WVU:

"It has absolutely no impact on my ability to lead these young men." He added that "it was an isolated incident that never happened before and never happened after."

"I would certainly change the wording but never the intent. I was coaching him and trying to help the kid."

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde contributed to this report.