Legendary Miami, FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger dies at 87

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·4-min read

Howard Schnellenberger, the legendary coach who led Miami to its first national championship and later built the Florida Atlantic football program, died on Saturday, his family announced. He was 87.

Schnellenberger turned Miami from a program administrators considered shuttering before his arrival in 1979 to a national title in 1983. The school won three more over eight seasons and became a program to emulate.

He later revitalized the Louisville program, coaching the Cardinals to 10 victories and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 1990. Later, he built the football program at Florida Atlantic and led its transition to the FBS level. The Owls announced his death on Saturday.

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Schnellenberger called Beverlee, his wife of 61 years, either his bride or his assistant head coach. The couple met in 1958.

"Howard always allowed me to be a part of his football life," Beverlee said, via FAU. "Watching him on the sidelines was an opportunity that gave us a special closeness — win or lose — that not many wives get. Even though he never smiled, he was always smiling in his heart. We loved all the moves and challenges. I will miss his warm heart, his warm hands and soft kisses. Howard always treated me special, like a queen, and was truly a husband that every Canadian girl dreams of. You will always be my love, now and forever. I'm proud to be your wife. You were a great leader of men and the leader of our lives."

A cause of death was not disclosed, but Beverlee thanked those who sent love and prayers over the past weeks and months. He had been in declining health and suffered a subdural hematoma from a fall last summer that required hospitalization, per the Miami Herald.

Schnellenberger's undefeated Dolphins season

Howard Schnellenberger.
Howard Schnellenberger is a legend in the South Florida community for coaching jobs at Miami, Florida Atlantic and with the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins. (Richard Lewis/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He was an NFL coach with great success before heading to Miami. Schnellenberger was Don Shula's offensive coordinator for seven years in the 1970s. That included the 1972 undefeated team that won the Super Bowl.

He left for a bit to be head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1973. He was fired after a 0-3 start in his second season and a dispute with the owner. He returned to the Dolphins.

Making Miami a dynasty

Friends told him to avoid coaching the Miami Hurricanes and he turned the opportunity down at first. But Beverlee convinced him otherwise, he said. On his first day he declared the school would win a championship within five years of his arrival.

It came true with the initial title in 1983. In one of the game's greatest upsets, Miami defeated Nebraska, 31-30, in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

“What most people feel would be my highlight,” Schellenberger said, via the Herald, “has to be the development of the University of Miami program from where it began to being the best team in America and beating the unbeatable team in Nebraska in the 50th Orange Bowl game."

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He focused on recruiting locally and only took selective talent from outside the region. He coached Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, which earned the school its "Quarterback U" nickname.

After the first title he left to take a job with a USFL team planned in Miami, and at the time cited the constrained athletic budget at Miami, per ESPN.

When the team didn't come to be, he sat out the 1984 season and landed at Louisville, where he grew up, for a decade. He led the struggling Louisville program to a Fiesta Bowl and spearheaded the building of a football complex that now bears his name.

Schnellenberger builds FAU program from scratch

Schnellenberger coached one season at Oklahoma in 1995 but resigned after going 5-5-1 in his first season. In 1998, Florida Atlantic wanted to start a football program and chose Schnellenberger as the director of football operations.

He later decided to coach and put the team on the fast track. After three years at the FCS level, he said, it would become an FBS program.

The Owls went to two bowl games and Schnellenberger again spearheaded an on-campus stadium. Upon his retirement in 2011 he was 158-151-3 there and the stadium also bears his name. He stayed around and became an ambassador for the school. When Miami and FAU played each other for the first time in 2013, he was named an honorary co-captain.

He played tight end at Kentucky from 1952-55 and was an All-American. He played for a short while in the CFL and began coaching at Kentucky before joining Paul "Bear" Bryant, his former coach, at Alabama. As an assistant, he recruited Joe Namath, a Pennsylvania native, to Alabama.

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