BOCA RATON, FLA. (AP) - Howard Schnellenberger played for Bear Bryant, led the Miami Hurricanes to their first national championship, was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins‘ perfect season and built a football program from scratch at Florida Atlantic.
That’s enough to make him feel satisfied.
The 77-year-old Schnellenberger announced Thursday that he’ll retire from coaching following the 2011 season at Florida Atlantic, his last stop on a journey that began more than 50 years ago and saw him be part of four college national championships and a Super Bowl victory.
“As Beverlee and I look at our tenure here, I can’t tell you how wonderful it’s been,” Schnellenberger said, referring to his wife, who was sitting to his right with about two dozen of his players.
Schnellenberger will become an ambassador for the university once this season ends. And his biggest accomplishment at FAU is yet to come: He will lead the Owls into a $70 million, 30,000-seat, on-campus football stadium for the first time on Oct. 15, a facility that would not have been built if it wasn’t for his constant pushing.
“Ever since we started planning for the stadium we always thought it would be important for Howard to run out the team in a new stadium,” FAU athletic director Craig Angelos said. “So I guess if we hadn’t had the stadium built he might continue to coach. But I think that was the plan of everybody, to have him coach up through that first season and lead the team out. I think that was only fitting for someone who started a program like that.”
Schnellenberger’s contract expires after the season and he had been asked repeatedly in recent weeks about his future. Normally, he would say a decision was coming after the season, but Thursday, he revealed that his decision was made several weeks ago.
“This was done now to make it as seamless as we could make it,” Schnellenberger said. “Let this season stand on its own … and do it in what I would call a civil way.”
FAU’s timetable, as of now, is to name a new coach in late November or early December. That could be accelerated, Angelos said.
Schnellenberger is 157-140-3 as a collegiate head coach. After this, there will be no next stop to coach, he insisted.
“You’re not going to see me anywhere but here or at the beach,” Schnellenberger said.
Best known perhaps for taking Miami to the 1983 national title, which started a run of five championships in 19 seasons for the Hurricanes, Schnellenberger is revered around much of South Florida. He founded FAU’s program in 1998, led them to what was then called the Division I-AA semifinals in 2003, won bowl games in 2007 and 2008 and then got the stadium built.
Last week FAU officially turned on the lights in the stadium for the first time, letting the coach throw the switch as a tribute.
“Three university presidents were involved in this, but one coach,” FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said that night. “And it’s coach Schnellenberger that made this happen. The vision that this university that he came to after an incredibly illustrious career. We’re grateful to have him. He’s done a fabulous job.”
Schnellenberger played at Kentucky for Bryant, then began his coaching career in 1959 as an assistant at Kentucky, then Alabama _ where he helped convince Joe Namath to play for the Crimson Tide _ then jumping to the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams in 1966.
He was on Don Shula’s staff in Miami for the Dolphins‘ perfect season in 1972, then became head coach of the Baltimore Colts. He returned to the Dolphins in 1975 and got the job leading the Hurricanes in 1979 _ telling people at the time he thought Miami would win a national championship within five years.
And he delivered.
Schnellenberger went 41-16 at Miami, his last game there a 31-30 win over Nebraska on Jan. 1, 1984 for the national title.
“He’s more than responsible for the success of this program,” said Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who was part of all five national-title teams. “He was a fierce, smart and great football coach that did an unbelievable job here at the University of Miami. I don’t know if this program would have ever gotten off the map like it did without Howard’s leadership. What he did for this place is unbelievable.”
Schnellenberger left Miami after that title season for an offer with the USFL, a deal that fell apart before he ever coached a game in that fledgling league, so he remained in the college game at Louisville in 1985.
He spent one year at Oklahoma in 1995, then soon started building FAU’s program. The school played its first game in 2001, and won bowl games in 2007 (along with the Sun Belt Conference title) and 2008, pushing Schnellenberger’s record to 6-0 in bowls as a head coach.
“He’s a legend for a reason,” FAU defensive back Marcus Bartels said.