Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to its first national championship and in the process turned a once-faltering soccer program into a dynasty, died on Saturday his family announced. He was 87 years old.
What Schnellenberger did in Miami remains one of the greatest transformations in college football history. Before his arrival in 1979, Miami administrators considered abandoning the sport as losses mounted and morale dropped.
But after he helped win the 1983 national championship, Miami won three more national titles over the next six seasons. Although he was only there for the ’83 title, the speed and athleticism the Hurricanes first displayed with Schnellenberger became a model for programs across the country.
Its impact went beyond Miami. Later, Schnellenberger reinvigorated his hometown, the Louisville Cardinals, and built Florida Atlantic football from the ground up, leaving an indelible mark on three college football programs over three decades.
His baritone voice, bushy mustache, and ever-present pipe made him sound more like a businessman than a football coach, but he became as synonymous with Schnellenberger as his penchant for embracing recovery projects.
He did it first with Miami, a job his friends urged him to avoid because it seemed like a dead end. Schnellenberger saw something else and declared that Miami would win a national championship in five years. He intensified discipline within the program and focused his recruiting efforts primarily on the untapped potential throughout South Florida, declaring the area the “State of Miami.”
It didn’t take long for Miami to rise to national prominence, culminating in the 1984 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, a game that ranks among the sport’s biggest upsets.
Miami came in as the underdog in their home field. But when Kenny Calhoun hit Turner Gill’s 2-point conversion pass, the Hurricanes sealed the surprise 31-30 and the first national championship in school history.
In a postgame interview, Schnellenberger said: “This has been a love story that has been unfolding for five years, and tonight was the fulfillment of a dream. I say fulfillment. It could be just the beginning of a dream.
It was, but Schnellenberger wasn’t there to see it firsthand. Schnellenberger left the Hurricanes after that championship season to take a job with a USFL team planned for Miami. At the time, he told The Miami Herald that he left because he felt constrained by Miami’s sports budget and couldn’t pass up the $ 3 million contract offer.
But the team never materialized and Schnellenberger was left out of the 1984 football season.
In 2011, Schnellenberger said of leaving Miami: “If you look at it objectively, it was the dumbest thing a human being could do.”
But not being a coach for a year gave him the opportunity to return home to Louisville, where he became head coach in 1985. He promised national championships there as well, and although he didn’t win any, he revitalized a program that was worse off. shape of what Miami was when it took over. During his 10 years as head coach, Louisville won a Fiesta Bowl and Schnellenberger spearheaded the construction of a stadium on campus. The current football complex bears his name.
He left in 1995 to become Oklahoma’s head coach, another decision he came to regret. After a miserable season with a 5-5-1 record, Schnellenberger resigned under pressure.
Schnellenberger would have one more chance to train, in the state where he made a name for himself. In 1998, a travel school in Boca Raton, Florida wanted to start a soccer program. Schnellenberger was elected Florida Atlantic’s director of soccer operations and later decided to coach the team. He had a fast track vision for owls: After spending three years at the FCS level, they would become an FBS show.
By now, he had left the pipeline for health reasons, but was still wearing his sports jacket, suspenders and tie on the touchline. During his time as head coach, FAU attended two bowl games and also had a stadium built on campus. When he retired in 2011, Schnellenberger had compiled a 158-151-3 record. The stadium field is also named after him.
His résumé includes not only championship rings (three earned as an assistant in Alabama, one with the unbeaten Miami Dolphins from 1972 and one with 1983 Miami) but also the quarterbacks he coached or drafted. As an Alabama assistant in 1962, Schnellenberger convinced lead recruit Joe Namath to sign with the Tide of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
With the Hurricanes, he coached Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, the basis of the “Quarterback U” moniker that Miami once had.
Then there are the coaches you learned from. Schnellenberger played for Paul “Bear” Bryant in Kentucky and later trained with him in Alabama; He also coached NFL Hall of Famers George Allen and Don Shula. Schnellenberger got his chance as head coach of the NFL, leaving the Dolphins after the 1972 season to take over for the Baltimore Colts. But his tenure lasted 17 games – he was fired after a dispute with the owner following an 0-3 start in 1974.
Schnellenberger was born on March 16, 1934, in Louisville, and played tight end at Kentucky from 1952-55, earning him All-America honors as a senior. After a brief stint in the CFL, he began his coaching career at his alma mater before joining Bryant in Alabama.
After retiring from FAU, he served as an ambassador for the school and stayed in the South Florida area. When Miami and FAU first played each other in 2013, Schnellenberger was named honorary co-captain.
Survivors include his wife Beverlee, sons Stuart and Tim, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Stephen.