Miami-FAU a tribute to Schnellenberger’s vision

A case could be made that Miami and Florida Atlantic are

football brothers.

After all, the programs have the same father.

The Hurricanes and the Owls play Friday to open their seasons

and pay tribute to former coach Howard Schnellenberger – who led

Miami into the spotlight by winning the school’s first national

championship in 1983, 15 years before he began building Florida

Atlantic’s program from scratch.

It’s the first time the schools have met in football, and starts

a three-game, four-year series.

”That was the genesis of the game, that we would celebrate what

he has done for both programs, really starting both programs at the

end of the day,” Miami coach Al Golden said. ”He’s a man who owes

me nothing but treats me with great respect and imparts great

wisdom every time I see him. We’re blessed to have him in our

family. I know FAU probably feels the same way.”

Schnellenberger will be the honorary captain for both teams.

Dozens of his former Miami players are expected to attend for a

30th anniversary celebration of the school’s first title – a move

Schnellenberger calls ”putting the sugar on the cake of this

game.”

He coached Miami for five years, with the Hurricanes’ win over

Nebraska in the Orange Bowl after the 1983 season his most

memorable, and his last. Schnellenberger left not long after that

game to take the reins of a USFL franchise that never got off the

ground, and has often said he regrets that move.

”It’s a thrilling experience to see this series come to

maturity now, come to pass,” Schnellenberger said. ”It’s going to

happen. We talked about this game for a long time. This is the

birth of a very important rivalry series that’s about to

unfold.”

Even though he follows Miami, he’s rooting for FAU.

”This is my team,” Schnellenberger said.

He’s considered the architect of Miami football, even though the

program had been around for six-plus decades when he arrived. Miami

wasn’t much of a winner before Schnellenberger; the school

considered dropping football in the 1970s and went 13 years without

a bowl appearance before he guided them to the Peach Bowl after the

1980 season.

Their next bowl game ended the 1983 season, and national title

No. 1 was claimed in the Orange Bowl, with Albert Bentley scoring

the final Miami touchdown in a 31-30 victory.

”We have five national championships, but if Howard had stayed,

we’d have at least 10,” said Bentley, a former NFL player who’s

now a financial adviser in Fort Myers, Fla. ”What he did was like

laying the tracks to go out west. The trains and everything else

wouldn’t have gotten there without the tracks being laid first.

That’s really what Coach Schnellenberger did.”

In that Orange Bowl, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne probably could

have clinched the national title by having his team kick an extra

point in the final moments and settling for a tie. The Cornhuskers

elected to go for a two-point conversion instead, a pass play

broken up by Miami’s Kenny Calhoun.

The Hurricanes – and Schnellenberger – have been part of college

football lore ever since.

”If he didn’t go, if he would have stayed, we would have won

more championships,” said Calhoun, a captain in the Polk County

(Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. ”He took an opportunity that he had to

better himself, better his family. That’s what the game is all

about. If you have opportunity, you should seize it. He was a great

coach. He was a great man. He practiced what he preached. And he

won.”

FAU coach Carl Pelini also has ties to the backstory behind this

game. Not only did he replace Schnellenberger, the only other coach

in FAU’s history, but he came to the Owls from Nebraska – where his

brother Bo Pelini is the head coach.

”Coach Schnellenberger, he had an amazing career,” said

Pelini, who also revealed that he sacked Bernie Kosar – Miami’s

quarterback in that Orange Bowl – when they were high schoolers.

”He built that program. It’s something that will go down in

history as an amazing accomplishment, what he was able to do for

Miami football and the university in general.”

Schnellenberger played for and later coached with Bear Bryant,

recruited Joe Namath to Alabama and ran the offense as part of Don

Shula’s staff for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to finish

an NFL season unbeaten.

But his legacy, said Miami assistant Art Kehoe – who played at

the school before working under Schnellenberger – is what he did

with the Hurricanes.

”My junior year, we voted 6-5 to keep football. We were going

to drop football and he took it from there to a national title,”

Kehoe said. ”The guy’s an unbelievable coach. … Heck, we

couldn’t pay the phone bill. And now we’ve got five national titles

and played for 11 of them and he’s the main fabric of all that. He

started it all.”