At Florida Atlantic
When you consider all the “firsts” that Florida Atlantic University’s football team has accomplished, it is hard to believe. What may be even more difficult is that legendary Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger accomplished a “first” as well in 2007. When the 74-year-old program builder was named 2007 Sun Belt Coach of the Year, it marked the first time he had earned a conference award.
Schnellenberger has resurrected two programs from virtual extinction. Neither was affiliated with a conference.
He joined the FAU staff May 1, 1998, with an unheard-of opportunity: build a collegiate football team from scratch. Since then, he has raised more than $15 million and hosted an FAU football television show, a weekly radio show and has been a regular at luncheons and gatherings. In January of 1999 the Board of Regents approved FAU adding football. Twenty-five recruits signed in his first FAU class. Since that time each recruiting class has been better than the last, each schedule is more difficult than the last and each milestone is one step closer to the program’s first bowl appearance.
When the team took the field for its first practice, Aug. 12, 2000, 164 players were dressed. FAU played its first scrimmage Sept. 23, 2000, and took to the field Sept. 1, 2001. It only took two games for FAU to have its first upset, defeating the No. 22 ranked team in the country, 31-28. FAU holds the record for the fastest start-up program to earn a Division I-A victory, and is the fastest program to reach the Division I-AA playoffs. Schnellenberger was named the Sports Network South Coach of the Year following the 2003 season. The 2004 season was more of the same. The Owls stormed into Hawaii, with a hurricane hitting Florida’s coastline at game time, and handed the Warriors their only homefield loss in 2004, defeating a bowl participant in just the 36th game of the program’s existence. Proving it was not a fluke, the team defeated perennial Sun Belt power North Texas the next week. FAU then rattled off five-consecutive road victories to enter the 2004 home schedule 5-0. The Owls finished their first transitional season 9-3, and bid farewell to the senior class with a third-consecutive “Shula Bowl victory over FIU. 2005 was the first full season of Division I-A play, facing Kansas, Oklahoma State at home. Minnesota and Louisville, along with a full Sun Belt schedule. The young squad put together several outstanding performances sending Kansas into the locker room with a 9-7 lead, Oklahoma State with a 13-3 margin at the half, and Louisville, who entered the game ranked no. 14 at game time, with a 10-point cushion, 20-10. Florida Atlantic began 2006 picked as the second worst team in the country. With this as motivation, the Owls used what Schnellenberger calls advanced training, its non-conference schedule, to finish with a 4-3 Sun Belt record and were in the hunt for the Sun Belt title deep into the season. The jump from a preseason eighth place finish to third in the Sun Belt was not as drastic as the prediction to finish last in the country to defeating the last team in the country 31-0. Both the offense and defense came together with one goal in 2007: win the SBC.
From January to December the focus remained constant and the accolades continued to role in culminating with a bowl game invitation, becoming not only the youngest program to receive a bowl invitation, but the youngest to win a bowl game, and the Owls did it with a decisive 44-27 win over Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.
For the National Title
Schnellenberger has been part of four collegiate national championships. His 1983 Miami Hurricanes won the school’s first title, defeating Nebraska in the 50th Orange Bowl. He was offensive coordinator for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama when the Crimson Tide won championships in 1961, 1964 and 1965.
In the NFL
Schnellenberger has been part of seven NFL playoff teams and was part of two Super Bowl championship staffs. He helped the 1972 Miami Dolphins to the NFL’s only undefeated (17-0) season. Schnellenberger has recruited and/or coached such current and former pros as quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, VInny Testaverde, Browning Nagle, and Jeff Brohm, and stars such as Michael Irvin, Brian and Bennie Blades, offensive tackles Bruce Armstrong and Jerry Crafts; fullback Carwell Gardner; wide receiver Earnest Givins; defensive end Joe Johnson, defensive tackle Ted Washington; cornerback Ray Buchanan; and defensive tackle Mike Flores.
Schnellenberger’s former offensive coordinator, Gary Stevens, and defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti have had similar roles in the NFL. Three of his former assistants were on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys during their rise to consecutive Super Bowl Titles.
Schnellenberger’s Miami teams defeated Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl and Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. At Louisville, he led the Cardinals to wins over Alabama (34-7) in the Fiesta Bowl and over Michigan State (18-7) in the Liberty Bowl. Overall, he has been part of nine bowl games.
Schnellenberger took over a University of Miami program that was nearing extinction in 1979. He installed a pro-style attack with quarterback Jim Kelly and led Miami to an Orange Bowl bid and the national championship four years later. His teams’ lost only two home games in five years while laying the groundwork for a program that went on to win three more national titles in the next seven seasons.
A native of Louisville, Schnellenberger returned in 1985 to build a college football contender. His top team finished 10-1-1 and defeated Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, the highlight of the most successful decade in Louisville football history. His teams played a coast-to-cost schedule against the top conferences in the nation and produced victories over such teams as Texas (1), Alabama (1), Michigan State (1), North Carolina (1), Virginia (1), NC State (1), West Virginia (1), Boston College (1), Arizona State (2), and Pittsburgh (4). The Schnellenberger Era also generated support for the University’s 42,000-seat, on-campus stadium.
Howard Schnellenberger learned his football tactics as a player for “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier at the University of Kentucky. He served as an assistant to Collier at Kentucky and Bryant at Alabama. Schnellenberger then moved on to pro ball as an assistant to George Allen (Rams) and Don Shula (Dolphins). He was head coach of the Baltimore Colts from 1973 to 74. He and his wife, Beverlee, have two sons: Stuart and Tim. Stuart was a tight end/center on his father’s 1983 national championship team. His eldest son, Stephen, passed away March 9, 2008. Grandchildren are Teather Ann, a Miami Dolphins cheerleader, and Joey and Marcus.