Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami (FL) to its first national championship, resurrected Louisville’s program and built Florida Atlantic’s football team from scratch, died Saturday at 87. Schnellenberger, who also coached one season at Oklahoma, served as a head coach in college football for 27 years and had a career record of 158-151-3.
Schnellenberger was the foundation of the resurgence of the Miami football program that was considering dropping to I-AA when he arrived in 1979 but turned into one of the top programs in the sport. The Hurricanes went 6-5 in his first year before posting nine-win seasons in each of the next two. A 7-4 record in 1982 was followed by an 11-1 season and the national championship in 1983. That season ended with a thrilling 31-30 win over top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
He resigned after that season and took over as the president, general manager and coach of The Spirit of Miami in the USFL. The team moved to Orlando prior to the start of the season and Schnellenberger opted to return to the college game. He posted a 54-56-2 record at Louisville from 1985-94 including a 10-1-1 season and Fiesta Bowl win in 1990. He stepped away from football after leading Oklahoma to a 5-5-1 record in 1995 — his only season with the Sooners.
Schnellenberger returned to the coaching ranks in 2001 when, after several years of construction, he led Florida Atlantic on the field for its first season. A surprising 4-6 record in the program’s inaugural season set the foundation. The Owls went 11-3 two years later and lost in the I-AA semifinals. He ushered in a new era for the program when the Owls made the move to FBS in the Sun Belt in 2005, winning the conference championship and the New Orleans Bowl in 2007. They then won the Motor City Bowl in 2008. Schnellenberger retired in 2011, the same season FAU moved into a new on-campus stadium that features a statue of him at the entrance with the field named in his honor.
“Howard always allowed me to be a part of his football life,” said his wife, Beverlee Schnellenberger. “Watching him on the sidelines was an opportunity that gave us a special closeness – win or lose – that not many wives get. Even though he never smiled, he was always smiling in his heart. We loved all the moves and challenges. I will miss his warm heart, his warm hands and soft kisses. Howard always treated me special, like a queen, and was truly a husband that every Canadian girl dreams of. You will always be my love, now and forever. I’m proud to be your wife. You were a great leader of men and the leader of our lives.”
Schnellenberger played end at Kentucky from 1952-56 before becoming the wide receivers and tight end coach with the Wildcats from 1959-60. He made stops as an assistant in college including at Alabama in the 1960’s under Bear Bryant and the NFL, including serving as Don Shula’s offensive coordinator for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, before taking over the Baltimore Colts in 1973. He went 4-13 in one-plus seasons before he was let go.
He resurfaced in college, which is where he became a legend.