BOCA RATON—After 52 years of coaching, after helping guide the Miami Dolphins to their perfect season as an assistant coach, after leading the University of Miami to its first national championship, and after creating Florida Atlantic's program from scratch, Howard Schnellenberger is leaving the sidelines.
Schnellenberger, 77, announced Thursday that he is retiring as FAU coach at the end of this season but staying with the university as a fundraiser for the FAU Foundation.
Schnellenberger was in the final year of his contract, and he will be able to lead his team onto the field in the new $70 million, 30,000-seat on-campus stadium that is nearing completion.
Schnellenberger had been pushing for the stadium since he arrived on campus in 1998 after being hired to start the program from scratch.
"The House That Howard Built is the right acronym for that stadium," FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said. "He means so much to this university and this community."
"The vision he is able to create and eventually bring to reality is something that is unmatched. Step by step things start falling into place and pretty soon believers get on board," Athletic Director Craig Angelos said.
Angelos said he expects to name a new coach after FAU's final game, which is Dec. 3, though he did not rule out naming someone sooner.
"I am just going to looking around and seeing what is out there and have a smooth transition," Angelos said.
Angelos said he would seek Schnellenberger's input when choosing his replacement. "He will be here to help with the transition. The thing we all take solace in is there is a great foundation," Angelos said.
"This was done so we can make it as seamless as we can make it. Do it in what I call a civil way," Schnellenberger said.
Schnellenberger was known as a rebuilder when he came to FAU.
He started his coaching career in 1959 as an assistant at Kentucky, where he was an All-American tight end. He coached under Paul "Bear" Bryant at Alabama from 1961 to 1965 before moving to the NFL.
He came to the Dolphins in 1970 and was offensive cooridinator for the 1972 Super Bowl team that went 17-0. In 1979 Schnellenberger returned to the college level, taking over a moribund Miami program and leading it to its first national championship in 1983.
Schnellenberger then took on another rebuilding task when he was hired at Louisville in 1985. In 10 seaons there he was able to make the Cardinals a nationally ranked program.
He left Louisville after the 1994 season when he was hired as head coach at Oklahoma.
Schnellenberger lasted just one season with the Sooners, who went 5-5-1, and he resigned under pressure and returned to South Florida.
Semi-retired, Schnellenberger was doing some sales work and when he was approached by then FAU President Anthony Catanese, who was interested in starting a football program. Catanese hired Schnellenberger in 1998 as Director of Football Operations, and in 1999 FAU received approval from the state to add football.
FAU played its first game in 2001 and Schnellenberger had the Owls in the Division I-AA semifinals in 2003 and they ended that season ranked No. 4 in the country.
FAU moved to Division I-A in 2006, and a year later they won the Sun Belt championship and New Orleans Bowl, becoming the youngest program to make it to a bowl game.
FAU has slipped the last two seasons, going 5-7 in 2009 and 4-8 last year, but Schnellenberger said he expects his final season to be a success.
"We intend to win the conference. We intend to win whatever bowl it might be and finish up this tenure on a positive note," Schnellenberger said.