Howard Schnellenberger’s impact on college football is profound. For nearly 40 years, spanning five decades, Schnellenberger was at the forefront of landmark moments for the sport. Yet, because of a rigid, arbitrary, and altogether archaic rule, he cannot be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Hall requires coaching nominees to retire with a win percentage of at least 60. Schnellenberger bowed out of his career this past season when Florida Atlantic wrapped up the campaign, his win percentage a tick above 50. A break-even mark hardly seems like it merits much more than a footnote in college football’s annals, let alone induction among the game’s greatest. However, what Schnellenberger did for the sport far transcends such simple figures.
Schnellenberger helped birth two of the earliest symbols of swagger. His Hall resume begins in the early 1960s at Alabama, where coaching under Bear Bryant, he landed the most famous quarterback in Tide history. Now, signing a star player is nothing out of the ordinary — at least, not Hall worthy. But Namath came South from the Pennsylvania amid a strange and rocky recruitment, which Schnellenberger recounts here.
Namath guided ‘Bama to one of its 14 proclaimed national championships and a 29-4 record over his time behind center.
Schnellenberger’s days in Tuscaloosa paved the way for a decade-and-a-half in the NFL, but upon his return was when he really left a mark on the college game.
He could have pursued only glamorous positions, ready-made for success with his NFL experience and Bear Bryant lineage. But Schnellenberger went on the path of greatest resistance, hence his career mark falling shy of the Hall’s minimum.
The University of Miami was on life support when Schnelly was hired in 1979. By 1983, the program won the first of its five national championships. Jimmy Johnson is more synonymous with the pinnacle of Miami success. And indeed, Johnson coached the exuberant, trash talking Hurricanes that would change football’s culture for decades.
But the hard-nosed, Bryant-inspired mentality Schnellenberger instilled gave the ‘Canes the guts to match their later gravitas.
Similarly, Schnellenberger saved the Louisville program, which was in dire straits in the 1980s. CardsGame.com described Schnelly’s 1985 arrival to his hometown program as follows:
Schnellenberger arrived at the University of Louisville in 1985, bringing great aspirations to a school where some fatalists had been wanting to punt on the sport of football. The fact that U of L was playing an old baseball stadium didn’t phase him.
The man saw potential where no one else could or would, proclaiming at his first press conference, that the program “is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.” That pronouncement, carried live on WHAS radio, sparked an unprecedented interest in UofL football.
The foundation for Bobby Petrino’s outstanding mid-2000s teams was laid by Schnellenberger. He had proven himself as a true program builder, succeeded in establishing teams worthy of national recognition from veritable ashes.
Building programs twice would seemingly be enough to cement Schnellenberger’s legacy, but he did so one final time at FAU.
Whereas Miami and Louisville were programs with some lineage when he took over, FAU was truly built from the ground up. Within six years of the program’s inception, he coached it to a Sun Belt Conference championship and twice led the Owls to bowl games.
FAU constructed a 30,000-seat stadium, that Schnellenberger got to see opened this past October. The new facility will serve as a lynchpin for the fledling program meeting its immense potential — and the potential for greatness is certainly there.
FAU Stadium will go down as the House Howard Built, an enduring legacy of his contribution to the game. But he deserves one more bit of recognition; an invitation to South Bend.