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FAU Football's "George Washington" Part I

Howard Schnellenberger weighs in on the difference between starting FAU's Football Team and developing the Miami Hurricanes into a National Champion

I recently caught up with Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger in off-season type of interview.  Wanted to get his take on the differences between his marked foundational work at Florida Atlantic, building a program from scratch, and what he accomplished at the University of Miami; while en route to leading them to a National Championship. Schnellenberger is one of the most colorful people I've ever spoken to and worked with, and here is what he had to say during part one of this two part question and answer session.

Q: Do you ever have any of your former players come down and give pep talks to your teams?

A: The only quarterback that I've ever had come to a game and help the team was Joe Namath. In the Orange Bowl Game against Penn State, I asked him to come down and be my honorary coach in charge of upsets. He got his big upset in the Orange Bowl in Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts. He came down and talked to my team in his own way the night before. Then on game day, he had a pre-game meal with us, came on the bus, and stood on the sidelines by which time I introduced him to the team as my honorary coach of upsets. And, low and behold, we got an upset.

Q: Am I sensing a superstitious Howard Schnellenberger?

A: Oh sure I'm superstitious. All old coaches are.

Q: How would you compare the magnitude of the challenges with Miami and FAU?

A: They're so different because I went into a program that was on the verge of extinction but they had a long life's experience. I believe they started back in 1927 and played football consecutively until I got there in 1979. They had some success but had fallen on hard times and I came in as a gunslinger coach that had some cleaning up to do. I gathered a group of players around me and we had great success. Here at Florida Atlantic, there was nothing here. We had no history and I came in as the Father Of  The Program. I brought players in just like a father has a son. We brought in our own players and we trained our own players. We had a lot of money to raise and the other things. If we would ever become anywhere close to being as successful here as we did at the success at Miami, it would be a sweeter victory.

Q: Which has been more fulfilling, FAU or Miami?

A: There is nothing more fulfilling than winning a national championship within five years. This one will be more fulfilling in a different way. This is Natural Child Birth and the Miami thing was Adopted Children if you will. These children are my Natural Children and when you watch your sons grow and get better, it's a lot more prideful than when you watch your stepchildren do the same thing.

Q: So you're telling me that you won't tilt one way or the other?

A: Yes, that's pretty close to it. If I would lead this one to a national championship then it would be twice as satisfying. But I can't live that long.

Q: When you were at Louisville, what was your recruiting strategy?

A: We made a commitment to come back to Florida to get the majority of our players just like we did at Miami and here at Florida Atlantic. I've also got to be considered the Guru of recruiting in the State of Florida.

Q: If I placed a tag on you as the “George Washington” of Florida Atlantic Football, since you're the Father of this program, would that be accurate?

A: Nobody has ever called me that before but I'll accept that.

Q: Was the undertaking at FAU more difficult than you anticipated?

A: I didn't know what to anticipate because I've never done it before and didn't know anybody that had done it. But it was so different it took me awhile to find out how to get it done. When I came up with the concept of gathering 100 founders to give birth to this program with me, I was able to raise $13 million and that was certainly a very important thing for us to get off to a fast start, build this building (Tom Oxley Center) that we're sitting in right now, buy the uniforms, get the state to get us a license to have a football team and then to bring in the assistant coaches to help bring in the players, scheduled the games and do those things you do when you build a football program from scratch. I didn't know what I was getting into but we were able to get it done through trial and error. We brought in a lot of good coaches and players to get it started.