Miami-FAU a tribute to Schnellenberger’s vision
A case could be made that Miami and Florida Atlantic are
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
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
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
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
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.”