May 24, 2007

Schnellenberger excells at building programs

When the smell of pipe smoke fills the coach's office, take it as a good omen for the future.

Call Howard Schnellenberger an architect.

As a college assistant, he recruited Joe Namath to Alabama and was part of 48 wins in five seasons serving under Bear Bryant.

In 1983, the pipe-smoking Schnellenberger led Miami to the first of five national championships. Ten years later, he led Louisville to a Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama after the 1990 season. Since 1998, he's been building Florida Atlantic from scratch.

Few are more acquainted with the unexpected challenges as well as the obstacles that never change in building a college football program than the 73-year-old Schnellenberger.

"It's counterproductive to have a football team and lose, and lose a lot of money," Schnellenberger said. "Somebody in high levels of Rutgers and Louisville and Miami had to have a change of thought to say that this is ridiculous to go through all these years and never have a championship and never go to a bowl."

Before Schnellenberger arrived in Coral Gables in 1979, Miami was a program in shambles. Rumors circulated that Miami would drop the football program altogether.

By the time he left, the Hurricanes were national champions with help from an independent schedule and Schnellenberger's recruiting strategy.

Although the Big East has boosted Louisville over the last two years, Schnellenberger misses the days when several independents were on top. Next season, only Notre Dame, Navy and Army will not be in a conference.

The independent schedule gave Schnellenberger the chance to schedule opponents with a national appeal, helping him entice recruits eager to play on television.

During Schnellenberger's five-year tenure, Miami played Florida, Florida State and Notre Dame. During the same time, the Hurricanes played Houston and Mississippi State four times each, Penn State three times along with games against Syracuse, Alabama and Texas.

He took a similar approach to scheduling at Louisville from 1985-94 with road trips to Miami, Tennessee, Florida State and Ohio State and games against Boston College and West Virginia. He also re-started the Kentucky-Louisville series after a 70-year hiatus.

"Neither of those schools could have moved as quickly as they did by being in a conference," Schnellenberger said. "We scheduled the best teams across the country. That was the catalyst we needed to make the jump from mediocrity to bowls and championship bowl games."

Rutgers, Louisville and Boise State either plan to upgrade facilities or already have. Despite the current mind-set to move to bigger and better, Schnellenberger notes that top-of-the-line locker rooms don't guarantee wins. For his part, Schnellenberger walked into dilapidated facilities at Miami and Louisville.

"People think facilities are very important. They are important, but they're not nearly as important as most people think," Schnellenberger said. "Keeping up with the Joneses is not a very good practice that we're going through now."

That brings Schnellenberger to what hasn't changed in decades: The game is still about people.

"We were able to recruit quality players," Schnellenberger said. "But they weren't what other people thought were quality. The year we won the national championship, we didn't have a single All-American on the roster. We had no Parade All-Americans. They were all just good, solid football players."

When he arrived in Coral Gables, he dubbed the area from Miami to Orlando and Tampa as "The State of Miami." He focused his recruiting strategy on bringing the fast South Florida athletes to Miami while keeping them away from Florida and Florida State.

It's a term now used by Rutgers to describe their recruiting territory. Greg Schiano dubbed the state of New Jersey and South Florida "The State of Rutgers." At FAU, Schnellenberger calls his current recruiting grounds the territory of Florida Atlantic University. He says FAU hasn't reached statehood yet.

"It's the same thing as it's always been," Schnellenberger said. "It's getting into living rooms of the best players you can and selling your program to the kids. It's still the same things."

Building blocks
Howard Schnellenberger has a knack for building or rebuilding programs. Here is his record at three of his four head coaching stops (the other was a 5-5-1 stint as head coach at Oklahoma) and the program's record over the same amount of time before Schnellenberger's arrival.
SchoolYearsUnder SchnellenbergerBefore Schnellenberger
Miami1979-8341-16 (2 bowl games, 1 NC)20-34 (0 bowl games)
Louisville1985-9454-56-2 (2 bowl games)45-64-2 (1 bowl game)

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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