Florida Hall of Fame
Florida Hall of Fame
Accolade comes just one week after induction into the University of Kentucky's Hall of Fame
May 18, 2005
- Putting on the Finishing Touches
By David Gladow
It's January 2, 1984. Forty-eight seconds to go. His team is hanging on by a single point, and the opponent is lining up for a two-point conversion.
One final play will decide the NCAA national championship. This is the kind of situation that builds legends and defines legacies. A quick snap, the quarterback rolls, he fires a pass to the corner of the end zone, and it looks true. But a defender breaks on the pass, tips it away, and a man's place in history is assured.
Certainly, there is more than that one evening to the life of FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who will be inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame on May 22. After all, this is a man who has dedicated the majority of his life to education, community service and his family. But that one moment truly captured the spirit of Howard's message: that hard work, perseverance and a little daring will eventually bring results.
You see, Schnellenberger took over a University of Miami program that was near extinction in 1979. The university had for several years openly discussed the possibility of dropping football. Dismal seasons with dropping attendance were becoming the norm. When Schnellenberger's predecessor eked out a 6-5 season in 1978 and quickly left for the head coaching job at Army, people wondered if the UM program could ever reverse its fortunes.
Drawing on the discipline and work ethic he learned from legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, Schnellenberger began to put his players through the paces. He challenged them in mind, in spirit, and, more concretely, with the schedule. His team quickly became known as the "Jet-Lag Kids," traveling more than 28,000 miles, an NCAA record, during Schnellenberger's his first season at the helm. His players responded to this daring approach, never crumbling under the pressure and posting a 5-6 record in 1979.
Schnellenberger's approach truly paid off in his fifth and final season in 1983, when UM reached the pinnacle of college football - a national championship. A great passing attack led by quarterback Bernie Kosar staked the Hurricanes to a huge lead against favorite Nebraska in the 50th Orange Bowl Classic, but it was that final play, the play that preserved the 31-30 victory, that captured Schnellenberger's philosophy so well. Play the play, as well as the game, to its completion. With one play becoming the difference between winning and losing, his Hurricanes heeded his lesson, and the team came away with the ultimate victory.
This wasn't anything new for coach Schnellenberger. By the time that game rolled around, he had already been a part of three collegiate national champions, seven NFL playoff teams and two Super Bowl champions. In his case, success certainly has bred more success. Howard Schnellenberger learned his football tactics as a player for "Bear" Bryant and Blanton Collier at the University of Kentucky. He then served as an assistant to Bryant at Alabama, where he coordinated the offenses of three national championship teams. After he and the Crimson Tide won championships in 1961, 1964 and 1965, Schnellenberger moved on to pro ball as an assistant to George Allen (Rams) and Don Shula (Dolphins). He helped guide the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the NFL's only undefeated (17-0) season and was afterwards named head coach of the Baltimore Colts. After coaching again with the Miami Dolphins, he moved back into the collegiate ranks by accepting the job at the University of Miami. His Miami teams lost only two home games in five years while laying the groundwork for a program that went on to win three more national titles after his departure.
Eventually, Schnellenberger ended up in his hometown of Louisville, where he resuscitated a Louisville program and took it to never-before-reached heights. His top team finished 10-1-1 and defeated Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, the highlight of the most successful decade in U of L football history. Utilizing his philosophy of difficult schedules, his teams earned 90 percent of the school's all-time TV appearances, grabbed its top bowl bid ever and helped increase attendance by nearly 40 percent. The Schnellenberger Era also generated support for the school's recent addition: a state-of-the-art, 42,000-seat, on-campus stadium.
New days bring new challenges, and in the late 90's, he received an unheard-of opportunity: to build a football team from scratch. Properly intrigued, coach Schnellenberger soon made it his mission to build a football program at Florida Atlantic. Since that time, he has raised more than $10 million and hosted a number of FAU Football television shows and a weekly radio show. In the early stage of the process, Schnellenberger met with the FAU students once a week and took more than 2,500 FAU student signatures, all in support of FAU Football, to the January 1999 Board of Regents meeting. Hard work, perseverance, and a little daring can go a long way.
Since that time, his FAU program has continually hit new milestones. Twenty-five recruits signed in his first FAU class, 30 in his second. When the team took to the field for its first practice on August 12, 2000, 164 players were dressed out. In his initial season at FAU, the team posted a 4-6 mark, including a 31-28 upset of the 22nd-ranked team in the nation. Season two saw FAU end the season with a thrilling victory over fellow start-up program Florida International in the "Shula Bowl."
After compiling a 6-15 record in its first two seasons of competition, the football team matured in its third year. A season opening road victory against Division I-A Middle Tennessee State opened the doors to a breakthrough season and gave FAU the distinction of becoming the quickest startup team to defeat an NCAA Division I-A opponent. The 2003 Owls climbed into the DI-AA national rankings with a 9-2 record in the regular season.
The team also made history by receiving its first invitation to compete in the Division I-AA playoffs, making FAU the youngest program to be awarded a championship spot. FAU made it to the semifinal round after defeating Bethune-Cookman and Northern Arizona. The magical season came to an end with a home-field loss to Colgate, but it did secure FAU an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference, a move that should help FAU continue its ascent into the upper echelon of NCAA football.
The Owls again put together another winning campaign in 2004, finishing with a record of 9-3. That record, combined with the 2003 record of 11-3, gives the fledgling program a 20-6 two-year record, good for tops in the state. Only the University of Miami (20-5) can boast of the same number of wins for that period.
That his former team and his current team share such a prestigious mark seems appropriate and almost poetic. Miami is where he achieved his greatest distinction on the field, and FAU is where he is achieving his greatest distinction off it. The Owl football program now serves as the most unifying force at a young school still searching for its identity. And under the direction of the legendary coach, the program has made a point of reaching out to the community.
Schnellenberger's efforts and community support are directly responsible for the construction of a state-of-the-art athletic training facility as well as a computer study lab and classrooms for all students. Just like the final play in the Orange Bowl, Schnellenberger is playing this opportunity out as far as he can.
Biographical Info/NFL Pedigree
Howard Schnellenberger is one of only 10 active collegiate head coaches who have won a national title. He and his wife Beverlee have three sons – Stephen, Stuart and Tim. Stuart was a tight end on his father's 1983 national championship team.
Schnellenberger has recruited and/or coached such current and former pros as quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Browning Nagle and Jeff Brohm, and stars such as Michael Irvin, Brian and Bennie Blades; offensive tackles Bruce Armstrong and Jerry Crafts; fullback Carwell Gardner; wide receiver Earnest Givins; defensive end Joe Johnson, a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints; defensive tackle Ted Washington; cornerback Ray Buchanan; and defensive tackle Mike Flores.
Schnellenberger's former offensive coordinator, Gary Stevens, and defensive coordinator, Tom Olivadotti, currently have similar roles in the NFL. Three of his former assistants were on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys during their rise to consecutive Super Bowl titles.
Selection of recruits, style of play, and practice regimens have helped more than 70 players recruited by coach Schnellenberger's staff to play in the NFL. Ten players from Schnellenberger teams were first selections of their pro teams. At least one player who was recruited or coached by Schnellenberger has played in the last 12 Super Bowls.
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