Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to its first national championship and turned a once fidgety football program into a dynasty in the process, died Saturday, his family said. He was 87 years old.
What Schnellenberger did in Miami remains one of the greatest changes in college football history. Before arriving in 1979, the Miami administrators considered dropping the sport as losses increased and morale declined.
After participating in the implementation of the national championship in 1983, Miami won three more national titles over the next six seasons. Though he was only there for the 1983 title, the speed and athleticism the Hurricanes first showed under Schnellenberger became a blueprint for programs across the country.
“The loss of Trainer Schnellenberger is in many ways immeasurable for the family at the University of Miami,” said Blake James of Miami in a prepared statement. “He helped our university grow at a critical time and laid a foundation for future success on and off the pitch. Our thoughts go with his family, friend, former colleague and players. He will be a hurricane forever . “
His influence extended beyond Miami. Schnellenberger later revitalized his hometown Louisville Cardinals and built Florida Atlantic Football from scratch, indelibly shaping three college football programs over three decades.
His baritone voice, bushy mustache, and ubiquitous whistle made him look more like a businessman than a football coach, but they became synonymous with Schnellenberger like his penchant for reclamation projects.
He did that with Miami first, a job friends urged him to avoid because it looked like a dead end. Schnellenberger saw otherwise and stated that Miami would win a national championship within five years. He increased discipline within the program and focused his recruiting efforts mostly on the untapped potential of all of South Florida by declaring the area a “State of Miami”.
It wasn’t long before Miami rose to national relevance, culminating in the 1984 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, a game that is one of the sport’s biggest surprises.
Miami went to his home field as an outsider. But when Kenny Calhoun beat Turner Gill’s 2-point conversion pass, the Hurricanes sealed the 31-30 surprise and the first national championship in school history.
In a post-game interview, Schnellenberger said: “This is a love affair that has developed for five years, and tonight was the fulfillment of a dream. I say fulfillment. It could only be the beginning of a dream.”
RIP to the legend that started it all … pic.twitter.com/Nr8EEvScXc
– Manny Diaz (@Coach_MannyDiaz) March 27, 2021
It was, but Schnellenberger wasn’t there to see it firsthand. Schnellenberger left the Hurricanes after this championship season to take a job with a USFL team planned in Miami. At the time, he told The Miami Herald that he left because he felt constrained by Miami’s sports budget and couldn’t miss the $ 3 million contract offer.
But the team never came about, and Schnellenberger had to suspend the 1984 football season.
In 2011, Schnellenberger said of leaving Miami, “When you look at it objectively, it was the stupidest thing a person could do.”
However, sitting a year before coaching gave him the opportunity to return to Louisville, where he became head coach in 1985. There he also promised national championships, and although he won none, he revitalized a program that was in worse shape than Miami was when he took over. During his 10 years as head coach, Louisville won a Fiesta Bowl and Schnellenberger oversaw the construction of an on-campus stadium. The current soccer complex bears his name.
He left the company in 1995 to become the head coach in Oklahoma, another decision he regretted. After a miserable season with 5: 5: 1, Schnellenberger resigned under pressure.
Schnellenberger would get another opportunity to train in the country where he had made a name for himself. In 1998, a commuter school in Boca Raton, Florida wanted to start a soccer program. Schnellenberger was elected director of football operations in the Florida Atlantic and later decided to coach the team. He had a quick vision for the owls: after three years at the FCS level, they would become an FBS program.
In the meantime he had thrown the pipe overboard for health reasons, but still wore his signature sports coat, suspenders and tie on the sidelines. During his time as head coach, FAU attended two bowl games and had a stadium built there on campus. By the time he retired in 2011, Schnellenberger had set an overall record of 158-151-3. The field in the stadium also bears his name.
His résumé includes not only championship rings (won three as an assistant in Alabama, one with the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972 and one with Miami in 1983), but also the quarterbacks he coached or recruited. As an Alabama assistant, Schnellenberger convinced top recruit Joe Namath to sign with the Tide in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania in 1962.
At the Hurricanes he trained Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, the basis for the former “Quarterback U” moniker Miami.
Thank you U Coach Howard Words cannot describe the respect, admiration, and windward I have for U & Beverly. The words “U Matter” because of U Coach 🏈 U Matter 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/VtEyn2aMwb
– Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) March 27, 2021
Then there are the coaches he learned from. Schnellenberger played for Paul “Bear” Bryant in Kentucky and later trained with him in Alabama; He also trained under the NFL Hall of Famers George Allen and Don Shula. Schnellenberger had his shot as the NFL head coach and left the Dolphins after the 1972 season to take over the Baltimore Colts. But his tenure lasted 17 games – he was sacked after a 3-0 start in 1974 after a dispute with the owner.
Schnellenberger was born on March 16, 1934 in Louisville and played a close end in Kentucky from 1952 to 1955. All-America honors senior year. After a brief stint in the CFL, he began his coaching career with his alma mater before joining Bryant in Alabama.
After retiring from FAU, he served as the school’s ambassador and stayed in the South Florida region. When Miami and FAU played against each other for the first time in 2013, Schnellenberger was appointed honorary co-captain.
Survivors are his wife Beverlee, sons Stuart and Tim and three grandchildren. He was deceased by his son Stephen.