Sporting News article on FAU's program
Sporting News article on FAU's program
Schnellenberger on track at Florida Atlantic
Winds of change are blowing again for I-A program in waiting
By Matt Hayes
Updated: 4:23 a.m. ET Sept. 10, 2004
So we piled in the car and started this uneasy journey. The wife and I, three kids and a 13-year-old dog who shakes at the sight of rain. Drove 15 hours through every back road imaginable from Orlando to Charlotte just to get out of the path of some windbag named Frances.
Come on, if 2.5 million people are going to flee Florida, how about a storm name with some oomph? Boy, that Frances sure delivered a punch.
OK, the real reason we left: Big storm plus loss of power equals no college football on the tube. Either drive through maddening bumper-to-bumper traffic to watch the first week of college football, or stay and drop another game of Scrabble. You get the picture.
As the long Saturday rolled into late Saturday night, after so many games with so much meaning had come and gone, the story of the weekend was unfolding in the early Sunday morning hours. Florida Atlantic, a probationary Division I-A school ? don't ask what that means, because, frankly, I don't know and neither does the NCAA ? was polishing off a truly incredible win.
When Doug Parker rumbled into the end zone in the first overtime, a 35-28 victory over Hawaii was complete. Why is this so significant? Only two days earlier, the Owls had left Boca Raton with the uncertainty of what could be as Frances was bearing down on their homes and university.
And because coach Howard Schnellenberger says so.
"I told them," Schnellenberger says of the hurricane in his deep, intimidating, baritone voice, "we can't do a damn thing about it."
When Schnells stares and barks and bellows, your cheeks and hair move from the reverberation and you pretty much go along with it. Just like they did in 2000, when Schnellenberger was hired to build the program from scratch. He stepped to the podium that day and announced ? amid more than a few chuckles ? that FAU would be playing for a national title in five years.
Sure enough, last year ? Year 3 ? the Owls advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs before losing in the national semifinals. This is the same guy who took over a Miami program in 1979 that nearly was shut down because it couldn't compete and wasn't making money; Miami won the national title five years later in an unforgettable clash with Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
It should come as no surprise, then, that while Florida State and Miami had to postpone their annual Game of the Year because of Hurricane Frances, and while the Central Florida Golden Knights were getting thumped by Wisconsin with thoughts of their hometown of Orlando in peril and coach George O'Leary missing his first game to attend his mother's funeral, FAU simply hopped on a plane and made history.
The team that won 11 games last year, the team built with castoffs from the state's Big Three programs and second- and third-tier high school players from Florida, now has fantasy geeks around the country dropping Duke for ? What's the name of that school again? ? yep, Florida Atlantic.
It took years for Schnellenberger to get over leaving Miami after the 1983 season for something called the USFL, a move he stubbornly stood by before finally admitting not long ago that it was a horrible decision. Hey, at least he made a coaching legend out of Jimmy Johnson. Schnellenberger wound up at Louisville, which quite possibly was the worst program on the planet when he took it over after the 1984 season. Six years later, the Cardinals beat Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl. He eventually left in 1995 for a disastrous one-year stint at Oklahoma.
"Life turns, and you follow it, and you're eventually back to where you started," he says.
So he started a program in South Florida, his home and comfort zone. He secured funding for a $14 million athletic training facility that rivals any in the state and already has university officials talking about building an on-campus stadium. His team became the fastest start-up program in NCAA history to beat a Division I-A team when it beat Middle Tennessee, 20-19, in last year's season opener. Then Florida Atlantic nearly won that national title three months later.
In 2006, the Owls will become a full-time member of Division I-A and play in the Sun Belt Conference. Then again, they've already outgrown the Sun Belt. Somebody get in touch with Conference USA ? or, for the love of God, the Big East.
A hurricane? Please.
Stand in front of Schnells when he's speaking about the future of FAU, and feel the force of the oncoming storm.? 2004 The Sporting News