Howard Schnellenberger, who built the offense for the undefeated Super Bowl champions of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, then revived football programs as head coach at the universities of Miami and Louisville, died on Saturday. He was 87 years old.
His death was announced by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, whose football program he had created. The university did not say where he died or the cause.
Schnellenberger was bold and extremely self-confident and an unmistakable personality on the sidelines. He usually wore a sports jacket and tie and had a bushy mustache. He strove to face adversity.
And he was very the taskmaster.
“Football is the last place outside of the military where we have the opportunity to develop the thesis that the team is more important than the individual,” he told Sports Illustrated after deploying his Oklahoma Sooners in 1995 – the third of four college teams that he trains – through a grueling spring training session.
Schnellenberger was the offensive coordinator below Coach Don Shula for the 1972 17-0 Dolphins who put together a session with Bob Griese and Earl Morrall on quarterback, Larry Csonka on fullback, Mercury Morris on running back, and Paul Warfield on wide receiver.
He began his college career as a head coach in January 1979 when the Miami Hurricanes hired him to take on a messy soccer program. Two weeks earlier, Lou Saban, the youngest of several head coaches Miami went through in the 1970s, had suddenly left for the army.
During his five seasons with the Hurricanes, Schnellenberger focused on recruiting players from high schools in Florida, stating that “the state of Miami”, bounded by an imaginary line from Tampa to the east, would be the northern limit of his main recruiting area. And he installed professional offensive and defensive plans.
The rebuilding program peaked with the quarterback Bernie Kosar (who was from Ohio) led the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record and a No. 1 ranking for the 1983 season, which was crowned by a 31:30 victory over previously undefeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
After Schnellenberger set a 41-16 record in Miami, he joined a potential head coach in the short-lived United States Football League in 1984. But that deal collapsed, and in 1985 he returned to Louisville, where he grew up, to coach the Cardinals.
He said he was unfazed by the challenge of reviving a football program that had long been overshadowed by the school’s basketball teams.
“We are on a collision course with the national championship,” he said at his introductory press conference. “The only variable is time.”
He coached Louisville to two bowl wins, most notably a 34-7 win over Alabama in the 1991 New Year Fiesta Bowl, the culmination of a 10-1-1 season.
Schnellenberger became head coach in 1995 in Oklahoma. But the Sooners only went 5-5-1 and he resigned.
He then retired, but he was hired by Florida Atlantic University in 1998 to raise funds to help create a football program. A year later, he began recruiting players to head coach, and his first team took over the field in Division 1-AA in 2001. Florida Atlantic moved to the higher Division 1-A in 2004 and won the New Orleans Bowl in 2007 and the Motor City Bowl in 2008.
Howard Leslie Schnellenberger was born on March 16, 1934 in Saint Meinrad, Indiana. He was of German-American descent. His father was a truck driver and his mother worked in an ammunition factory during World War II.
He played for Kentucky under Bear Bryant and Blanton Collier and was named an All-American First Team by The Associated Press in 1955. He was assistant coach at Collier in Kentucky and under Bryant in Alabama from 1961 to 1965 in 1959 and 1960.
Schnellenberger recruited Joe Namath and Ken Stabler for the Crimson Tide. When he went to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania to get Namath to play for Bryant, he once told The Sun Sentinel of South Florida, “A three-day recruiting trip turned into 10 days,” as Namath and his family did some persuasion.
“I ran out of money and had to buy him a plane ticket to come back with me,” he recalled. “I wrote a bad check to Eastern Airlines to get the two of us to Alabama.”
When Stabler asked Schnellenberger to bring a small present for his mother when he courted Stabler for Bryant, Schnellenberger recalled: “I took a fifth of bourbon from his mother.”
Schnellenberger was an offensive coach in Bryant’s National Championships in Alabama from 1961, ’64, and ’65. He was hired as the reception coach for George Allen’s Los Angeles Rams in 1966 and as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator by Shula in 1970.
After the undefeated season of the Dolphins, he was named head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1973. After the Colts went 4-10 and started 3-0 the next season, he was fired. From 1975 to 1978 he was again the offensive coordinator of the dolphins.
Recognition…Joe Sebo / Associated Press
Schnellenberger had a career record of 158-151-3 as a college head coach. He was 6-0 in bowl games and trained Miami, Louisville and Florida Atlantic to two bowl triumphs apiece. He retired a second and final time after the 2011 Florida Atlantic season.
He is survived by his wife Beverlee; his sons Stuart and Timothy; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His son Stephen died in 2008.
Miami and Florida Atlantic met for the first time in August 2013. The Hurricanes won 34: 6 with Schnellenberger and players from his Miami team from 1983 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of their national championship season. Schnellenberger was both winner and loser at this matchup in 2013: He was the honorary captain of both teams.