UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI Legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, who started the Miami Hurricanes dynasty, dies March 27, 2021 09:32 AM On his first day as the man in charge of University of Miami football — a moribund program that had churned through five coaches in nine years and was seriously considering dropping to a lower level of competition — Howard Schnellenberger stood before his players and predicted the Hurricanes would win a national championship. Not necessarily that season but eventually. Nobody could have imagined he would do it within five years. Schnellenberger, the architect of the Hurricanes football dynasty and the founding father of the Florida Atlantic University football program, died on Saturday at 87, leaving behind a legacy that forever changed two South Florida universities. The cause of death was not disclosed, but Schnellenberger had been in declining health. He suffered a subdural hematoma from a fall last summer, requiring hospitalization. “Howard treated me special, like a queen, and was truly a husband that every Canadian girl dreams of,” Beverlee Schnellenberger, his wife of 62 years, said in a statement released by Florida Atlantic University. “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.” Navigating UM to its first of five national championships was his personal pinnacle, but he left an imprint on South Florida sports on so many levels. He was Don Shula’s offensive coordinator and right-hand man for seven years during the Dolphins’ glory years of the 1970s, including the 1972 undefeated team. He established the foundation for a dynasty at UM — five titles in 19 years — by leaving behind 60 freshmen and sophomores that comprised the nucleus of coach Jimmy Johnson’s first two teams. And there was the achievement that gave him the most joy: Launching and building the FAU program, then spearheading the construction of a sparkling stadium. Schnellenberger stands above everyone else “Who compares to him? There is no one that compares to Schnellenberger,” said UM radio analyst Don Bailey, who played for UM during Schnellenberger’s first four seasons. “He took Miami — a program where people thought its days were numbered — and brought it to a championship. He took a Louisville program worse than Miami’s and took it to 10 wins and beating Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl. “He went to FAU, where they didn’t even have a program, and in his third year, they’re one win away from being in the national championship game. He had every answer for every challenge. To me, he left the game underrated.” The FAU experience “is hard not to be the one I take the most pleasure in,” Schnellenberger said in an interview with the Miami Herald in February 2013. “That was more personal.” But Schnellenberger was never under any illusion about where he forged his legacy. “What most people feel would be my highlight,” he said, “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” in January 1984. Over a nine-year period, UM sifted through coaches Walt Kichefski, Fran Curci, Pete Elliott, Carl Selmer and Lou Saban, with none able to post an overall winning record during their tenures. When Saban left after 5-8 and 6-5 seasons to take a job at Army, the UM program was at a crossroads. School officials discussed dropping football or moving down to a lower division. In the meantime, UM offered the coaching job to Schnellenberger, who had impressed in his job overseeing the Dolphins’ offense. “I turned it down at first,” he said. “It was only after my wife Beverlee prevailed on me to take the job that I took her advice and accepted. “I was reluctant to take it because it was a graveyard for coaches. It had been for 20 years. Here I was with Don Shula, who had won the Super Bowl. Why would I go to the University of Miami? It wasn’t until I looked at it that it seemed it was pretty good.” Shortly after taking the UM job, Schnellenberger learned the administration was discussing “dropping to Division I-AA. When I found out, they went back into committee to restudy the motion, then tabled it for five years.” Schnellenberger said he made of a list of the football program’s “assets and liabilities.” He concluded that some of what the school considered liabilities were actually strengths. “I said we had the greatest stadium in the south in the Orange Bowl, which they thought was the worst stadium for them because it was too big and wasn’t on campus,” he said. “The second thing I said we had was the best schedule a team could have — Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, Penn State. That was an asset for me, but for them it was a liability, because they thought these teams were strong and they thought we can’t win.” The third asset Schnellenberger listed was ultimately vital to his success at UM: “I said we’re sitting on a hotbed of talent, the best 30-mile ratio in the world. “So when I looked at that list, it became obvious to me that the only liability they really had was they were pessimists, losers, people that didn’t believe in themselves.” National title was the No. 1 goal That’s why, on his first day on the job, he informed his players that he would win a national championship at UM. “I thought I had to drive some enthusiasm and confidence and arrogance and bravado and set a goal that I can believe in and is do-able,” he said. “And then recruit the coaches that believe what I believe, and then recruit these kids that wanted to come to Miami, but nobody would ask them.” Bailey said that first speech — predicting a national title — “changed my life. It proved ‘impossible’ was only an opinion and not a fact. I’ve lived that and done hundreds of talks on that subject.” Schnellenberger decided to build a metaphorical “fence around Miami” and encourage the top players in the tri-county area, including those in Miami’s inner city, to hop aboard. He supplemented the roster with selectively chosen players from outside the state, including Ohio-born Bernie Kosar, the quarterback on his national championship team. “We were going to become the most expert of all the schools that recruited here, bring in kids that want to play football in front of mom and dad,” he said. When Schnellenberger drove into the inner city in his white Cadillac, “I would wait until I saw the first kid on a bicycle and ask, ‘Where does Alonzo Highsmith live?’ He would say, ‘Come with me.’ “Then you would hear people shout, ‘The scholarship man is coming!’” Schnellenberger made a convincing sales pitch. “Howard told you, ‘You can go anywhere you want, and you’ll probably start,’ ” Highsmith recalled, by phone. “But he said, ‘If you stay here in Miami, you will have an opportunity to build something that will last a lifetime and influence other kids to stay in town.’ I could have gone to any school I wanted, but I wanted to be part of something new.” Opposing coaches “told me my mother the only bowl I was ever going to see at Miami is the salad bowl. My mom was crying.” With his baritone voice, snazzy suede jacket and trademark pipe, Schnellenberger made quite an impression. “This guy comes in with a cherry smoke pipe — very intimidating,” former Hurricanes running back Melvin Bratton said on the ESPN documentary, ‘The U.’ “He said, ‘Do you want to be part of the Miami tradition?’ I’m like, ‘Bro, you have no tradition. You all got smashed.’ He left his pipe in our [house]. I think it was a ploy.” It was, in fact. Schnellenberger said he left his pipe “on purpose for the very good ones we were recruiting,” creating a reason to come back. Many of the top Dade/Broward players — Highsmith, Bratton, Brian Blades and many others — committed to UM, forming the nucleus of a Canes juggernaut in the 1980s. Even before many of those players arrived, Schnellenberger had reversed UM’s fortunes, incorporating a pro-style offense — led initially by quarterback Jim Kelly — and guiding UM to 9-3 and 9-2 records and Top 25 finishes in his second and third seasons (1980 and 1981). Before that, UM hadn’t finished in the Top 25 since 1960. “His offense changed college football,” Bailey said. “I don’t remember anyone else playing a pro-style offense then, maybe Florida State. Nobody utilized tight ends and two backs like he did. “He was a confident man — a man of convictions,” Highsmith said. “When he told you something, you could believe it. He didn’t promise me anything but he said, ‘If you’re good enough, you’ll play.’ ” Said Bailey: “Howard was fair, and the thing he did as well as anyone ever in the game was take you farther than you ever believed you were capable of going as an individual and teammate and player. That carried on for the rest of your life.” A private, family only memorial will be held.