Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Skip navigation

best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

Add topic

Post

best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....



FAU's bowl run adds to 's legacy
By Pat Forde
ESPN.com
(Archive)
Updated: December 21, 2007

NEW ORLEANS – Howard Schnellenberger invites a visitor into his penthouse suite at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street and waves a weathered hand at the panorama below.




Howard Schnellenberger built Florida Atlantic's program from its inception to its first bowl game.

"Quite a view of the bend in the Mississippi River," the old man says in his distinctive gravelly baritone. "These are the perks you get for being a 73-year-old Division I-A football coach."

It's been a long time between bowl perks for Schnellenberger – 14 years since his last one and 24 years since he changed the course of the sport on a New Year's night in South Florida. This is a man talented enough to have a penthouse suite in this town 17 days from now, when the national championship is at stake – he has, after all, been there before. Instead the coach and his fledgling Florida Atlantic Owls are here for the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (ESPN2, 8 ET), an affair low on the 32-game bowl undercard.

But this is the quixotic career path Howard Schnellenberger has chosen. He ascended to the college football throne once and walked away – then built another program to the verge of greatness and walked away again. He worked for legendary names at prestigious locales – for Bear Bryant at Alabama, for George Allen with the Los Angeles Rams, for Don Shula with the Miami Dolphins – but has done his finest work in semi-obscurity. His inevitable induction into the college football Hall of Fame has been delayed by two of the worst career decisions imaginable, at least in terms of wins and losses.

There has never been a football life quite like Howard's.

He's given up hard jobs at Miami and Louisville just when they got easy. Given up drinking. Given up smoking his trademark pipe. But he's never given up the dreamer's gleam in his eye, or the flair for rhetorical bombast, or his commander-in-chief coaching persona. He's carved a unique niche in football annals, and in the process brought himself closer to his dying son.

"God," Schnellenberger rumbles, in a voice that could be mistaken for the Almighty's, "has a better direction for us than we have for ourselves."





Stephen Schnellenberger suffers from brain damage that occurred during surgery four years ago. The 47-year-old has a tracheotomy and is left without a colon. He is, in the words of his father, "hooked up to every damn tube you can be hooked up to and still live."

Someday he will live no longer. Until that day comes, Stephen survives on a feeding tube, his doctors' skill and his parents' will. He stays with Howard and his mom, Beverlee, at their home in Boca Raton, Fla. Beverlee helps tend to him and arranges his doctor schedule.

He was diagnosed as an infant with a rare form of endocrine cancer but lived a normal childhood and became an insurance broker in South Florida. However, during colon surgery in 2003, Stephen's heart stopped and he went without oxygen for nine minutes. The brain damage suffered from that left him in a semi-comatose state.

He remained hospitalized in downtown Miami – close to an hour's drive from Boca. Howard would make the drive daily after practice, and Beverlee was there during the day. One of them would read to him, and Howard has continually coaxed and coached his son to say simple words – words that have stopped coming as his condition has deteriorated in recent months.

It has been heartbreaking duty for the Schnellenbergers. It is also the kind of thing parents will do for one of their three children, at any age.

"My wife is an absolute saint," Schnellenberger says. "I'm lucky. I get to go to the office and work.

"This football [at Florida Atlantic] has been such a God-given gift for us. It's given us a new challenge, a new reason to be alive and think about the positive things in life. If I'd been at Oklahoma when this terrible thing happened to Steve, he'd be dead."

It is, according to Schnellenberger, part of God's direction. His career path makes others wonder what could have been, but it makes the coach appreciate what has been done.

"If you look at the big picture and what it meant for me to leave Miami, what a great thing it was for me and Louisville," he says. "I got to build a program in my hometown. Then leaving Oklahoma, what it did for me and [FAU].

"I don't know what I would do if I were still selling bonds to old men on golf courses."

Schnellenberger's stay in Oklahoma was short-lived and filled with issues.

That's what Schnellenberger was doing when the opportunity to play Creator came at Florida Atlantic. He'd been forced out at Oklahoma in 1995 after just one season, a 5-5-1 debacle rife with off-field issues. Among those were rumors circulated by those within the school that Schnellenberger had a drinking problem that was adversely affecting his performance.

It was not the first time stories about Schnellenberger's drinking percolated. There was talk about it at Louisville, too – but the coach was a hero at the program he raised from the ashes, not an outsider with a .500 record at a football giant.

When the criticisms strayed from on-field performance to personal innuendo, Schnellenberger quit the job at Oklahoma. And, shortly thereafter, quit drinking.

"I quit drinking to make damn sure I was never put in that situation again," Howard says. "If you do drink, it can be construed as anything."

Schnellenberger didn't go through a 12-step program because, he says, "there wasn't any reason to 12-step. It was no problem."

Stopping smoking came next.

"I quit the pipe with a lot more difficulty than the drink," he says.

Other than gimping around on an artificial knee, he looks great – looks the same today as he did 15 years ago.

"I should look better," Schnellenberger gruffly responds. "I'm healthier."






What should Howard Schnellenberger's legacy be?

The question is big-picture enough that it usually takes time to answer. Kirk Hoza needs about a second to respond emphatically.

"Greatest football coach ever to walk the sideline," says the FAU defensive coordinator, a longtime Schnellenberger assistant. "He'll tell you never look back, and he's probably right. But if he doesn't leave Miami, what are we looking at? Ten national championships?"


Schnellenberger took a downtrodden Miami program and put it on the national map.

The Hurricanes have won half that many without Schnellenberger, but never would have won any if he hadn't taken what appeared to be a dead-end job in 1979. This was a floundering program that was mulling giving up football when it extended an offer to a mustachioed Dolphins assistant.

By that time, Schnellenberger already had been fired as a head coach of the Baltimore Colts after 17 games on the job. He went 4-10 his first year and 0-3 his second, when, he says, owner Robert Irsay stormed in at halftime and demanded a quarterback change.

Schnellenberger told him to go back upstairs. Irsay told him he was fired.

"You've got to wait until after the game to fire me," Schnellenberger said. "Now go upstairs."

After the game he was gone, eventually moving on to a third stint as a Shula assistant and then the Miami job. Schnellenberger inherited some talent, including a quarterback named Jim Kelly. But this was a program that had run through five coaches in the 1970s alone before calling on Schnellenberger in '79.

After a 5-6 first year, the Hurricanes flourished. They went 36-10 the next four seasons, capped by a 1983 season that marks a sea change in the sport.

Miami won the national title by shocking what many people considered the greatest team they'd ever seen: undefeated Nebraska, led by Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. Nobody but Schnellenberger gave his team a shot in that game.


He swaggered into the Orange Bowl with a modern game plan the Cornhuskers could not contain. Before the game Schnellenberger told his quarterback, Bernie Kosar, that they were going to pass on first down. Every single first down. Until he threw an incompletion.

"By then," Schnellenberger says, eyes twinkling, "it was 17-0."

Miami had to survive a Nebraska two-point attempt to win 31-30. Just like that, the German kid who grew up in the hardscrabble Shively neighborhood in Louisville was the king of college football.

Naturally, he left shortly thereafter.

Destination: The United States Football League and a South Florida franchise that wound up never playing a game. From prince to pauper, nearly overnight.

While Jimmy Johnson was capitalizing on Schnellenberger's momentum at Miami, the builder was relocating to another school that had recently discussed dropping football: Louisville. When he took over in 1985, the Cardinals had had 10 losing seasons in the last 12 and played games before high school-sized crowds in a minor-league baseball stadium. Tickets were given away at convenience stores for filling a tank of gas.

After a painful start – 8-24-1 his first three years – Schnellenberger finally got traction and turned the program around. The Cardinals went 24-9-1 the next three seasons, capped by the previously inconceivable: a Fiesta Bowl rout of Alabama to finish 10-1-1 and 12th in the nation.

That game is the wellspring for a Louisville football program that went on to play in nine consecutive bowl games from 1998 to 2006. Not only did Schnellenberger build a winner, he built a stadium – at times almost single-handedly keeping the project alive.

Without a sparkling new stadium that opened in 1998, the school would not have attracted Tom Jurich as its athletic director. And without Tom Jurich it would not have hired John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino, the two coaches who extended Schnellenberger's vision toward its ultimate fulfillment.

Long ago, they stopped snickering in Louisville at Schnellenberger's 1980s proclamation: "We're on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time."

But for Schnellenberger, there wouldn't be enough time.





He left for Oklahoma, lured by the tradition and what seemed like a shorter course to that national title. One humbling year later, Schnellenberger was taking his bond salesman's exam three times and tepidly entering the financial world.

"I realized I didn't know crap about the market," Schnellenberger says. "I could not in good conscience advise anybody of anything."




People have been asking me when I'm going to write my book. I've always said it won't be written until the last chapter is done. The last chapter is being written right now.
–Howard Schnellenberger


Then, in 1998, at age 64 – what would seem a perfectly acceptable retirement age to most people – Schnellenberger jumped at the chance to help start a football program from scratch at FAU. He was named director of football operations, charged with coming up with a strategic plan, raising funds and selecting a coach.

After wheedling $13 million in pledges and pitching the state legislature for assistance, the idea began to take shape. And when then-school president Anthony Catanese asked him to search for a coach, Howard humbly selected himself in 1999 as the right man for the job.

He did have experience building from the ground up. But this was different.

"This one is so different," he says. "The others, we were working with adopted kids. These were our kids.

"We went from foreplay – I think I can use that term these days and not get in trouble – to conception to birth. It's been a great romance and it's produced, I think, a wonderful child."

They began practice in 2000 with 160 walk-ons and 22 scholarship players. They didn't play a game until 2001, getting stomped by Slippery Rock 40-7 after the FAU administration failed to certify 13 Owls starters in time to play.

By Game 2, the fruits of Schnellenberger's labor already could be seen. The Owls upset the No. 22 team in I-AA, Bethune-Cookman. They finished that first season 4-6, backslid to 2-9 the next year, then went 11-3 and made the I-AA semifinals.

But Howard Schnellenberger doesn't dream of I-AA championships. He dreams the big dreams, and in Year 4, FAU was a transitional member of I-A. With a 9-3 record the Owls could not go to a bowl game, but the message had been sent: They were here to stay.

"I can see it coming, exactly the way the Louisville program did," says offensive coordinator Gary Nord, a 16-year Schnellenberger assistant.

After two losing seasons in the Sun Belt, this year's team won the league and went 7-5. The Owls upset Troy on the road to win the conference title and advance to their first bowl game – against Memphis in the Superdome.

The Tigers have a modest football heritage but still are the more established program. As is everyone the Owls face.

"Wherever you are with him, you're always trying to do something with nothing," Nord says. "You're playing teams with all this stuff. We don't have any stuff where we're at now."

Florida Atlantic has one thing. It has a 73-year-old coach with adequate fire and bottomless acumen, a man ready to enter into a contract extension and see the Owls do what he never saw Louisville do: play in their own campus stadium, another project spearheaded by Schnellenberger. The 30,000-seat facility is set to open in 2010.

FAU has the ultimate builder, the ultimate dreamer; the guy who looks at a pile of junk and sees diamonds and gold. Strange twists and turns have brought Howard Schnellenberger here, but it's a journey he's grown to appreciate.

"People have been asking me when I'm going to write my book," he says. "I've always said it won't be written until the last chapter is done. The last chapter is being written right now.

"Life has been so good, and we've been able to look ahead and not back. The rewards have come to us."



Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at [email protected]
Back to the top

Post

Re: best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

"People have been asking me when I'm going to write my book. I've always said it won't be written until the last chapter is done. The last chapter is being written right now. " - Howard Schnellenberger

That's a great quote

My two favorite teams are FAU, and who ever is beating FIU!
Back to the top

Post

Re: best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

yeah Jab…

i agree…

However, I love the article, except for this part:

"People have been asking me when I'm going to write my book," he says. "I've always said it won't be written until the last chapter is done. The last chapter is being written right now."

He cant write a last Chapter - NO.

Coach, you have to live forever, and remain the Owls Head Coach for the rest of eternity…

ok, so i tried……………..
Back to the top

Post

Re: best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

Haha well he's building a legacy for us here. Fans of other schools make fun of FAU but if you read the article at Louisville they were giving away tickets with a free fill up of a gas. So for us to be in a bowl game already and have arguably the greatest college coach to ever walk the sidelines is amazing in it's self. It just feels like a dream and we are all in the middle of something special, how many fans from other Schools can say they were at their teams first ever game or their teams first ever bowl game in it's 7th season nonetheless!

I think the final chapter is getting this stadium on campus, naming the field after him, and FAU winning a national championship or at least move into a BCS conference and be nationally ranked while Howard is still alive. I think that's a great ending to a great book

My two favorite teams are FAU, and who ever is beating FIU!
Back to the top

Post

Re: best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

Wow, could we copy this article and send it to all the kids we are recruiting?  :o
Back to the top

Post

Re: best Schnellenberger article I've ever read.....

As long as Howard stays healthy, I have no doubt in my mind that he can bring a National Championship to FAU. If you look at where FAU is right now as opposed to where UM & Louisville were when Howard came in…I believe we are in much better shape. I also feel that if UM could attract the talent at that school, then there is no reason why we can't get the same great talent in Boca.
Back to the top

Post

Here's another good one ...

Helping son among Schnellenberger's proudest moments

BY LINDA ROBERTSON
[email protected]

ERROR: A link was posted here (img) but it appears to be a broken link.


JC RIDLEY / COURTESY FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY
'As long as he keeps going, so do I,' FAU
coach Howard Schnellenberger said of his son
Stephen, right.


Howard Schnellenberger has built winners at FAU, Miami and Louisville, but his proudest moments are when he helps his brain-damaged son learn to talk.

By day, Howard Schnellenberger is still a football coach. He teaches muscular young men how to throw, tackle, strategize and speak with poise when in the public eye.

By night, Schnellenberger is still a father. He teaches his son Stephen, 47, whose body is curled and thin, how to toss a rubber basketball into a toy hoop. He coaxes Stephen, who was brain-damaged during surgery four years ago, into saying ''Dad'' or ``Mom.''

Touchdowns from his players and smiles from Stephen are victories of equal magnitude for Schnellenberger.

At Florida Atlantic University, previously an obscure Boca Raton commuter
school located on a burrowing owl sanctuary and World War II airfield, Schnellenberger has built a bowl-bound team in record time with his charisma, organizational genius and stern discipline learned from his mentor, the late Paul ''Bear'' Bryant.

At home, Schnellenberger watches games with Stephen, reads the newspaper to him and takes him for dips in the ocean in his floating wheelchair.

Schnellenberger, 73, architect of the Miami Dolphins' 1972 Perfect Season offense and 1983 founder of the UM's national championship dynasty, has discovered his second wind at FAU.

A SECOND CHILDHOOD
Schnellenberger and Beverlee, his wife of 48 years, are guiding Stephen through a second childhood. They have rearranged the living room of their townhouse to accommodate Stephen's hospital bed and medical station, overseen by a life-size cardboard cutout of Schnellenberger and manned by a rotating staff of five nurses and Beverlee, who replenish Stephen's feeding IV, suction his tracheotomy tube and dispense his 40 medications.

''We know there is a lot going on in Steve's mind,'' Schnellenberger said.

``The challenge is in eliciting a response.''

The indefatigable Schnellenbergers are thrilled with the growth of FAU's blooming program and thankful that the oldest of their three sons is still alive. They rarely betray a hint of exhaustion or sadness.

''We try to keep Stevie as happy as he can be,'' Beverlee said. 'He loves going to FAU's games. Rusty Smith, the quarterback, always runs over afterward and says, `Steve, if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be playing so well.' ''

For the Schnellenbergers, football remains a sustaining force.

Stephen won't be able to attend FAU's New Orleans Bowl game against Memphis on Friday. But he will be watching from his ''football chair'' in the TV room filled with memorabilia – jerseys from Joe Namath and Bernie Kosar, helmets from Schnellenberger's nine coaching stints, photos with Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer, a letter from George H. Bush and a telegram from Ronald Reagan with congratulations for UM's Orange Bowl upset over Nebraska.

As a kid, Stephen was the ball boy for the Dolphins in two Super Bowls. He was also in charge of his father's headphone cord on the sideline, keeping it untangled.

''He knew more about football than any of us,'' Beverlee said.

He's been at every FAU home game this season, including the win over Florida International, when he shook hands with Don Shula and got hugs from the cheerleaders.

''He was absolutely beaming,'' Schnellenberger said.

But as the program Schnellenberger created from scratch has progressed, Stephen has regressed.

''He was able to talk a little, say some words, or at least move his lips,'' Schnellenberger said. 'I'd say, `Steve, what is two plus two?' And he'd whisper, `Four.'

``But then he stopped talking.''

On Friday, after Stephen was taken for a walk in his wheelchair, he began coughing. Beverlee cleared the tube in his throat that he breathes through.

''Is that better, Steve? Is that better?'' she asked, putting her face close to his. ``Say bet-ter. Can you tell Mom yes? Can you nod yes?''
Stephen grinned and raised his left hand to her shoulder.

''Good, Steve!'' she said, taking his head in both hands and kissing his cheek.

''Right now, it's down to smiles,'' Beverlee said.

Stephen was diagnosed with a rare form of endocrine cancer at age 2, and had undergone operations to remove his thyroid and adrenal glands and a kidney. But he was living a normal life, working as an insurance broker and running a camp for kids with cancer when Schnellenberger accepted the FAU job nine years ago. Schnellenberger ended a brief and dull semiretirement selling bonds at the urging of Beverlee and Stephen.

''He's not a relaxed type of guy,'' she said. ``Bear Bryant died two weeks after he retired. Coaches just love what they do.''

'Howard is kind of like the Dalai Lama when dealing with people. He gets letters and phone calls from his players of 20 years ago seeking advice. Even here at home, when the nurses or my neighbors have a problem or a sob story, they ask me, `When is Howard coming home? I need to talk to him.' ''

A LONG JOURNEY
And so Schnellenberger embarked on what could be the last job of what he admits has been a peculiar career: Assistantships at Kentucky, Alabama and with the Los Angeles Rams and Dolphins, then head coach of the Baltimore Colts, where he was fired after 17 games. He returned to the Dolphins, then in 1979 reluctantly went to UM, a school he called ''the graveyard of coaches,'' that was considering the abolishment of football.

'I turned UM down, but told Beverlee they'd offered me $50,000 plus $25,000 for a coach's show and she said, `Are you out of your mind? Let's go,' '' he said.

He declared UM would win a national title in five years, ``and we seduced the best players in South Florida to do it.''

From Miami he went to the short-lived USFL, then revived football in his hometown of Louisville, spent an awful 5-5-1 season at Oklahoma and returned to South Florida, where he couldn't resist putting FAU on the map.

A campus stadium is in the works.

''UM hasn't been called Suntan U. since 1983. Their applications and endowments have multiplied. We saw the same effect at Louisville and we're seeing it at FAU,'' he said.

The early days were rough. Schnellenberger drummed up student support by giving cafeteria speeches and holding practice pep rallies. He taught inexperienced fans how to cheer at dress rehearsal games. His assistants drove a forklift to accelerate weight room construction. Just before FAU's first game in 2001, 13 players were declared ineligible due to a computer glitch. En route to the second game, the Owls' airplane was forced into an emergency landing, and Schnellenberger marched his team to a parking lot for a walk-through practice to distract them from the harrowing experience.

''FAU will win a national title, though probably not with me,'' he said. ``We gave birth to this one while at the others I was a hired gun who fixed badly broken teams.''

As FAU thrived, Schnellenberger dealt with the near-death of his first-born in 2003. During colon surgery, Stephen's heart stopped beating and his brain was deprived of oxygen for nine minutes. He was in a semicoma for months, and the Schnellenbergers drove back and forth to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital.

In their efforts to communicate with him, Schnellenberger would whistle in the same piercing way he does on the field. When he improved, they placed him in a care facility, but he kept getting sick and they decided to move him into their home.

''I'd cry, cry, cry because I saw Stephen crying,'' said Beverlee, 69. ``My whole life has changed. Stephen is No. 1. We have a great staff but I have to make sure everything is done right. We try to help him be the best he can be with what he has left.''

STRONG SUPPORT
They rely on the strength of a relationship that began when Beverlee, a Montreal fashion model, met Schnellenberger, a Southerner who was playing in the CFL. She fell in love ''immediately,'' and proposed six weeks later.
He turned her down but later realized his mistake and offered her a ring while jingling a pile of coins in his hand. Beverlee has saved the three-page love letters he used to write. She, in turn, wrote inspirational messages she put in his pocket before games.

''Remember the hills ahead are not as steep as they seem,'' she wrote in one dated 9/24/88. ``Start today, my darling, with faith in your heart and climb til your dream comes true.''

In another: ``Grand opportunities come disguised as impossible tasks.''
She hasn't had time to compose any lately, but the old messages apply today, more than ever.

''Beverlee is a saint,'' Schnellenberger said. ``I hope for her sake that when I go, I go fast.''

In his office, Schnellenberger has collected mementoes from 45 years – trophies, plaques, photos. Just as prominently, he's displayed a recent

''Happy Birthday, Dad'' sign in wobbly script from Stephen.

But he is most proud of a delicate piece of paper he pulls from the lucky pair of game-day shoes Beverlee had bronzed years ago. On it, a young Stephen carefully wrote his father's coaching record.

''Stephen has always been my hero,'' Schnellenberger said. ``As long as he keeps going, so do I.''
__________________
Back to the top
Control functions: