A Fixed Point In Time Part I: Howard Schnellenberger

A Fixed Point In Time Part I: Howard Schnellenberger

Dan E. Dangerously
Miami and Louisville have a weird history. The two programs are oddly linked together despite having barely played each other over the past 80 years. There was a ton of back story to this bowl game that I wanted to include in my The More You Know post. I started going off on 2 separate tangents so I had to cut most of it out. I still liked those tangents, so I made this so I could expound on it a bit. This is Part I, and it deals with the man who built both programs up from nothing.



With our bowl game sneaking up on us, I had all these other miscellaneous thoughts in my head that I couldn't fit in an earlier post. Because of that I just decided to put them aside and turn them into something on it's own. You see, we've got some things in common with Louisville, and the history of our two programs are intertwined. Incidents that have taken place at one school has greatly affected the other in ways that forever shaped the programs.



Howard Schnellenberger:

The first thing we have in common, and the most obvious, is the fact that both Miami and Louisville owe an immense amount of gratitude to Howard Schnellenberger for building up their programs. Miami and Louisville rarely played each other before Howard came to town. They had only met 3 times with Miami winning two and tying the other one.

DateWinnerLoser
11/10/1950Miami - 13*Louisville - 13*
10/04/1949Miami - 26Louisville - 0
11/101933Miami - 33Louisville - 7
* Tie

If you weren't old enough to remember his days here (like myself) you still know everything he built in Coral Gables. Those of you who didn't learn anything about him in general just from being a fan could at least be educated from reading Bruce Feldman's Canes Mutiny or by watching the film The U - 30 for 30 by Billy Corben. The man took our program from the dumpster fire condition that he found it back in 1979, and turned us into not just a competitive program but a player on the national stage. It all culminated in 1983 when we won our first national title in his fifth season with the program.

[video=youtube;MoNs0mdKAO8]www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoNs0mdKAO8[/video]

The single greatest turnaround of a program...EVER. I defy you to find a better coaching job where a bottom feeder (with little to no history) was turned into a champion in just 5 years. His strategy to recruit locally set the blueprint for his successors to run roughshod over the college football universe for another decade, collecting an additional 3 national titles in the process. During Schnelly and Jimmy Johnson's tenure, Miami met Louisville 6 more times, with UM winning all of the meetings. The two programs wouldn't meet again until 2004, which I'll talk about later this week.

DateWinnerLoser
10/26/1985Miami - 45Louisville - 7
11/03/1984Miami - 38Louisville - 23
10/08/1983Miami - 42Louisville - 14
10/02/1982Miami - 28Louisville - 6
09/06/1980Miami - 24Louisville - 10
09/15/1979Miami - 24Louisville - 12

Howard left Miami following the '83 championship when he was offered a USFL head coaching job with an expansion team in Miami. The position also allowed him to be general manager and gave him partial ownership of the franchise. As much as Howard loved Miami, the opportunity and extra money that comes from a professional head coaching job was too good to pass up. Unfortunately the USFL franchise never came to fruition, and Miami had already hired Jimmy Johnson to replace him. Howard Schnellenberger, the head coach of the defending national champions, was out of work.

A couple of years later Howard landed the gig at Louisville. It was another rags to riches story for him. Before Howard arrived, Louisville had just 2 winning seasons in their previous 12 years. They might not have been "Hey, let's drop football" bad, like we were, but they were bad nonetheless. The football games were played at a minor league baseball stadium, and the program was constantly in the shadow of it's Denny Crum coached basketball program.



Stop reading and check out that suit...Howard was all business. Schnelly won just 8 games in his first 3 years, but he went 24-9-1 over the next 3 that followed. In the decade he spent coaching at Louisville, he coached them in just their 4th and 5th bowl appearances in school history. They won both of them too, including an impressive 34-7 win over Alabama at the Fiesta Bowl in 1991. That season they finished 10-1-1 and ranked 11th in the nation. It was the 1st time in school history they finished in the final AP Poll. His success at Louisville, coupled with what he had already accomplished at Miami, finally got him some attention from an already established college football power. Pretty soon the Sooners came calling and Howard took his pipe to Norman, Oklahoma.

Howard left Louisville to go to Oklahoma in 1995, but his tenure in Norman was a disaster and he was forced to resign after just 1 season. After starting out 5-2-1 he lost his final 3 games against Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska by a combined score of 98-10 (being shut out in both the Oklahoma State and Nebraska games). Unlike his other stops, Oklahoma had a rich tradition of winning and lofty expectations. They weren't willing to buy into his plan of rebuilding. The local media was very adversarial too, going as far as to lampoon his wife Beverly for insisting they address her as Mrs. Schnellenberger.



They wanted results and weren't willing to wait for what he was promising to build down the road. He also distanced himself from Barry Switzer because he's a scumbag who got the program into a ton of trouble. Trouble so bad that Howard's predecessor Gary Gibbs had even failed to recover from. This treatment of Switzer was of course viewed as a mortal sin by boosters and they helped speed up the process of running him out on a rail. To this day, despite the fact he was only there for 1 year, those mouth-breathers still treat Howard as though he were solely responsible for the decade of mediocrity that separated the Switzer and Stoops regimes.

After 4 years outside of coaching, Schnelly popped up at Florida Atlantic. They didn't even have a program yet but were wanting to build one. This was the perfect spot for Howard at this stage of his career. FAU would begin as a 1-AA school, and they took the field for the first time in 2001. By his third year he had them at 11-3 and they went to the semi-finals of the 1-AA tournament. After making the jump to 1-A status in 2006, FAU followed that up by going 8-5 in 2007. They were invited to their first bowl game, The New Orleans Bowl, where they defeated Memphis 44-27 in the Superdome.
The joy from that bowl win was short lived.



Howard's son Stephen had been diagnosed with a rare form of endocrine cancer (multiple endocrine neoplasia type IIB - to be more specific) since the age of 2. He was still able to live a normal life, attending college at UF before transferring to Miami where he got a degree in Business and became an insurance broker. In 2003 Stephen was going through a series of medical procedures to treat his cancer. Complications arose, causing his heart to stop in the middle of one of the procedures and he fell into a coma. Eventually he came out of it but he never fully recovered. The incident left him in a wheelchair, made basic communications skills difficult, and left him in a state that eventually required around the clock care. He spent the last two years of his life living with his parents before eventually passing away in March of 2008 at the age of 48.




Parents aren't supposed to bury their kids. No matter how old they are.

The following season, FAU would once again become bowl eligible by going 6-6. It was the first time ever that a Sun Belt team was invited to a bowl game after not winning the conference. They went up against the Butch Jones (Tennessee) led squad from Central Michigan in the 2008 Motor City Bowl, winning 24-21.



In all he spent 11 seasons at FAU, going 58-74, the last of which was 2011. That year was also the inaugural season for their brand new on campus stadium.
He had been pushing for one at FAU since he was hired in the late '90s. He finally got his wish in his final season, where the Owls finished with a record of 1-11. Howard always preached the importance of an on campus stadium, saying this in an interview with State Of The U back in January:


Howard Schnellenberger said:
...There's no stronger relationship that people have than to a stadium that is on the campus where many of them met their sweethearts, and got their first kiss on homecoming night, behind the bleachers, and sometimes even conceived their first born. So it's a very nostalgic, a very traditional part of college football...

With his long career over, stop and think for a second, what would have happened if Miami didn't hire Howard Schnellenberger? What if he stayed and Jimmy Johnson never came? Would we have still reached the heights that we did or could we have gone even higher? Where would Louisville be without him? Oklahoma fans might have eventually forced themselves to treat Barry Switzer with disdain (like they should) for derailing their program in scandal and bad press. They'd also have to treat Gary Gibbs like the Larry Coker-esque coach he was, and John Blake like we treated Randy Shannon. FAU? They wouldn't have a team, let alone the brand new stadium they built. It's pretty amazing how one coach can have such an immense impact at so many places.
 

Comments (18)

Great job. Howard is god of U football. Always will be.
 
Great stuff, Dan E.
 
Last edited:
You continuously out do yourself, excellent write DED.
 
Outstanding. That golf cart picture is the definition of boss.
 
By the way, if anyone has not read Cane Mutiny, you need to get a copy. Immediately.

It is how we came to be.
 
Love and respect that man. Him and JJ after he left built Miami football.
 
Coach Schnelly is a great coach and visionary. Congratulations Dan on a great piece.
 
One of the best posts and threads in a long time. Informative, interesting and very well written.

Great stuff Dan.
 
I know and still hang out with a couple former Canes that came in under Coach Schellenberger. They always talk about how smart he is and in tune with what players needed. They say he was a genius at dissecting a defense and timely play calling. These are things we'll never hear about D'Nofrio who has only demonstrated an ineptitude unequaled in defensive history and retained his job without any concern for dismissal.
 
Dan is a really gifted writer. I love reading all his work.

You could say he's another Olli Maatta.

Except better.
 
I know and still hang out with a couple former Canes that came in under Coach Schellenberger. They always talk about how smart he is and in tune with what players needed. They say he was a genius at dissecting a defense and timely play calling. These are things we'll never hear about D'Nofrio who has only demonstrated an ineptitude unequaled in defensive history and retained his job without any concern for dismissal.
This thread is about Schnellenberger. Do we have to twist every thread into the other thing?
 
Hey, great piece. Longtime UM fan and Howard remains a favorite. Without him, hard to imagine where the program would be, or if we'd still have a program.
Question, though, for oldtimers. Didn't Howard leave for USFL franchise in Washington that never got off the ground, not Miami?
 
Thanks Dan. Man, if only Howard had stayed... Great stuff!
 
Hey, great piece. Longtime UM fan and Howard remains a favorite. Without him, hard to imagine where the program would be, or if we'd still have a program.
Question, though, for oldtimers. Didn't Howard leave for USFL franchise in Washington that never got off the ground, not Miami?
They were going to relocate the Washington Federals to Miami and change the name, so I guess it wasn't really an expansion team.

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/25/sports/usfl-s-federals-not-going-to-miami.html
 
I know and still hang out with a couple former Canes that came in under Coach Schellenberger. They always talk about how smart he is and in tune with what players needed. They say he was a genius at dissecting a defense and timely play calling. These are things we'll never hear about D'Nofrio who has only demonstrated an ineptitude unequaled in defensive history and retained his job without any concern for dismissal.
This thread is about Schnellenberger. Do we have to twist every thread into the other thing?
You'd be right under normal circumstances, but A DC whose scheme is good for 28 points a game and over 500 total yards, should always be mentioned in all threads.
 
The negativity and obsession toward Barry Switzer are laughable. We are directed to read Miami-based books like Cane Mutiny but apparently asked to accept one-sided conventional wisdom from afar regarding Switzer. If you read Switzer's book and others from the time period you see what he was up against, notably an obsessed Darrell Royal at Texas who couldn't stand that Oklahoma suddenly had the upper hand on him under Switzer. Royal would badger the NCAA persistently, inventing and exaggerating claims against Oklahoma. Those NCAA guys remained with that organization long after Royal was gone at Texas, and retained the disdain for Switzer, influenced by their buddy Darrell Royal. If anyone should realize that the NCAA holds grudges and treats programs differently regardless of the truth, it should be us.

Schnellenberger was a moron to think Oklahoma fans would accept a back room dismissal of Barry Switzer, someone who has been incredibly loyal to the state and the program despite his Arkansas roots. Switzer is still involved in Oklahoma political background maneuverings and other matters. He never hesitates to boost and support anything related to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Schnellenberger remains a local laughing stock and punch line. The odd deportment there was hardly limited to his wife's version of her name. Fortunately, Schnellenberger was young enough to manage the FAU opportunity and deflect from that Norman experience. He wouldn't want those lingering stories as the last thing he was remembered for.
 

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