Amid all the changes in the coaching profession this week, one career is coming to an end as planned. There is no fanfare or extensive media reports on his career. But he has had a profound effect on his former players, teams, schools and the game of college football.
Howard Schnellenberger, 77, is stepping down as coach at Florida Atlantic after their game this Saturday. Lafayette-Monroe in Schnellenberger’s final game, ending a coaching career that began in 1959 and included one National Championship in 1983 at Miami.
Even though he made his name in the coaching profession with that title, Schnellenberger was actually a head coach before that. He coached one year and three games with the Baltimore Colts in 1973 and ’74, winning 4 games. He then moved on to be the offensive coordinator for Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins, before taking the University of Miami job and resurrecting the program.
“He’s an old warhorse,” Shula said of Schnellenberger. “He’s a remarkable guy. The things he’s done are almost unbelievable. How he’s built programs. At Miami, how he turned that program around and made it one of the best in the country. What he’s done at FAU is just remarkable.”
The National Title was won with a freshman quarterback in Bernie Kosar. Kosar played like a senior when the Hurricanes upset highly favored Nebraska in the Orange Bowl by one point, stopping the Huskers two point attempt to win on the final play of the game.
Afterwards, Schnellenberger made what he called later the worst coaching mistake of his life. He left Miami for a USFL job in Miami that didn’t end up materializing. After sitting out a season, Schnellenberger returned to the sidelines at Louisville.
The Cardinals had not had a winning season since 1978 and only two winning records in the previous 12 years. They played at a minor league baseball stadium and were the “little sisters to the poor” against state rival Kentucky. It took Schnellenberger three years to put the program into shape. Schnellenberger went 24–9–1 the next three seasons. In 10 years, he led the Cardinals to their fourth and fifth bowl games in school history. Then he made another blunder.
Oklahoma called an offered him their head coaching position and it was a disaster. The Sooner alumni didn’t take to the Schnellenberger philosophy and quickly ran him out of town in 1995. Schnellenberger thought his coaching career was over.
But a little known school picked up the phone and dialed his number. Florida Atlantic was forming a football program and they asked Schnellenberger to head it up. It was just what he wanted. In 1998 and at the age of 64, he was back in the game.
This Saturday it is all over. No Pomp, No circumstance. Just an old war horse plodding off to the pasture with stories and memories to last a lifetime. Howard Schnellenberger is a coach that makes us love college football. As a man he has flaws, he’s made mistakes and lived with them, making us all better people.
College Football is losing an Icon this weekend and not many understand that.
That might be the biggest mistake of all.