Howard Schnellenberger will retire from coaching after Saturday’s game at FAU Stadium.
Schnellenberger’s career is marked by the legendary coaches he learned from, the championships the coaching staffs he was on won, and his ability to transform struggling programs and, as a final act, to create a new one from scratch.
From his high school days until 1979, when he took over the Miami Hurricanes program, Schnellenberger learned from the best.
He spent time this week talking about the coaches who helped shape his philosophy and contributed to his success.
Flaget High School, Louisville (1948-1952) – Played offense line and defensive line for coach Paulie White.
Schnellenberger said Flaget was a new Catholic school and White was determined to make it a football power. He took the team to New Orleans in Schellenberger’s freshman year so they could play one of the nation’s top teams. That would become a trademark of Schnellenberger’s when he became a college coach – to go anywhere to play the best teams. He felt it gave his players a first-hand look at what it took to play at that level. In his final season at FAU, the Owls played Auburn, Michigan State and Florida.
Flaget won its first state title in 1949, the year after the trip to New Orleans. Future Heisman winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung was a teammate of Schnellenberger’s at Flaget.
“He was a builder. He was a pathfinder,” Schnellenberger said of White.
University of Kentucky (1952-56) – Was an All-American tight end and played for coach Blanton Collier
University of Kentucky (1959-60) – After playing two years in the CFL, Schnellenberger decided to get into coaching, and returned to his alma mater and became an assistant under Collier. There was another assistant on that staff named Don Shula.
Collier was the coach at Kentucky from 1954 to 1961. He then went to the NFL and was coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1963 to 1970, winning the 1964 NFL championship. He was 76-34-2 with the Browns and was forced to retire because he went deaf.
“He was known as the mechanic of the game of football. I learned that technical soundness can overcome lack of talent,” Schnellenberger said.
Alabama (1961-65): From Kentucky Schnellenberger moved to Alabama to work for Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant just as Bryant was turning Alabama into a national power. Alabama won three national championships during Schnellenberger’s time there (1961, 1964, 1965). Those were three of the six national championships Bryant won during his 25 years at Alabama.
“Bryant taught mental and physical toughness and the absolute necessity for top-of-the-line recruiting,” Schnellenberger said.
Los Angeles Rams (1966-69): Schnellenberger then jumped to the NFL, where he went to work for George Allen, who took over an ailing Rams franchise that had not had a winning season since 1958. Allen turned the Rams around immediately, as they went 8-6 in his first year and 11-1-2 in his second.
“You win on defense,” Schnellenberger said about Allen’s philosophy. “Offense is not an important part of football.”
Miami Dolphins (1970-72): Schnellenberger decided to leave the Rams when Don Shula, who had just taken over the Dolphins, offered him a job. The two had spent a year together on Collier’s staff at Kentucky.
Like Allen, Shula had instant success with the Dolphins, going 10-4 in his first year, 10-3-1 in his second, and then 14-0 and winning the Super Bowl in his third. Schnellenberger was the offensive coordinator during Miami’s perfect season and thus was part of another national championship team.
“Don Shula taught me to be clear, concise and complete in your coaching. Find a recipe and stick to it. Have a moment for celebration of a win, and a moment for depression for a loss and don’t let either one of them go any longer,” Schnellenberger said.
1973-74: Head coach, Baltimore Colts: Schnellenberger had one of his few rough stretches, going 4-10 after being hired as head coach. The Colts started 1974 0-3 and he was fired, and was rehired by Shula and returned to the Dolphins, where he was until 1979, when he was hired to take over the University of Miami program that had been struggling for years.
Schnellenberger won the 1983 National Championship, the first of many for the Hurricanes. He then went to Louisville and spent 10 seasons there turning that program into one that was ranked in the Top 25 for several seasons.
He ended his career by taking on the rare opportunity to create a program from scratch.
FAU won early – making it to the I-AA semifinals in 2003, its third year of existence – and Schnellenberger is also credited with being the main reason there is a new $70 million, 30,000-seat seat stadium on the Boca Raton campus that opened this season.
“I think he is one of the best football coaches that there has been,” long-time friend and rival Bobby Bowden said.
At every stop in his career, Schnellenberger watched and learned
Paul 'Bear' Bryant, Don Shula and others taught Schnellenberger how to create winning teams
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