Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to its first national championship and turned the once-thriving football program into a dynasty, died Saturday, his family announced. He was 87 years old.

What Schnellenberger did in Miami remains one of the greatest transformations in college football history. Prior to his arrival in 1979, Miami executives thought the sport had been abandoned as losses and morale continued to plummet.

But after leading Miami to the 1983 national championship, Miami won three more national titles in the next six seasons. Although he was only there for the 1983 title, the Hurricanes’ speed and athletic ability, first displayed by Schnellenberger, were a model for programs across the country.

The loss of coach Schnellenberger is in many ways immeasurable to the University of Miami family, Blake James said in a prepared statement. He helped our university grow during a critical time and laid the foundation for future success both on and off the football field. Our thoughts are with his family, friend, former colleagues and players, he will forever be a Hurricane.

His influence extends beyond Miami. Schnellenberger breathed new life into his hometown Louisville Cardinals and built Florida Atlantic football from the ground up, leaving indelible marks on three college football programs in three decades.

Howard Schnellenberger, architect of the Miami Hurricanes football dynasty and founder of the Florida Atlantic University football program, died Saturday at the age of 87. FAU Athletics

His baritone voice, thick mustache and ubiquitous trumpet made him sound more like a businessman than a football coach, but they have become as synonymous with Schnellenberger as his penchant for redevelopment projects.

He did it first with Miami, his friends at work urged him to avoid it because it seemed like a dead end. Schnellenberger sees something different and proclaims that Miami will win the national championship within five years. He strengthened the discipline of the program and focused his recruiting efforts on the untapped potential of all of South Florida and stated the Miami State region.

It didn’t take long for Miami to gain national prominence, culminating in the 1984 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, a game that is considered among the sport’s greatest upsets.

Miami has taken on the role of the underdog on its home field. But when Kenny Calhoun hit a 2-pointer from Turner Gill, the Hurricanes sealed the 31-30 victory and the first national championship in school history.

In an interview after the game, Schnellenberger said it was a love affair that developed over five years, and tonight was a dream come true. I say execute. Maybe this is just the beginning of a dream.

RIP to the legend who started it all…. pic.twitter.com/Nr8EEvScXc

– Manny Diaz (@Coach_MannyDiaz) 27. March 2021

It was, but Schnellenberger was not there to see it with his own eyes. Schnellenberger left the Hurricanes after the championship season to take a job with a USFL team in Miami. At the time, he told the Miami Herald that he left because he felt constrained by Miami’s athletics budget and couldn’t turn down a $3 million contract offer.

But the team never materialized, and Schnellenberger missed the 1984 football season.

In 2011, Schnellenberger talked about leaving Miami. If you look at it objectively, it’s the stupidest thing a person can do.

But when he didn’t compete the next year, he had the opportunity to return to Louisville, where he became head coach in 1985. He also promised national championships there, and while he didn’t win any, he breathed new life into a program that was in worse shape than Miami when he took over. During his 10 years as head coach, Louisville won the Fiesta Bowl and Schnellenberger oversaw the construction of the stadium on campus. The current football complex bears his name.

He left in 1995 to become head coach at Oklahoma, another decision he regretted. After a miserable 5-5-1 season, Schnellenberger resigned under pressure.

Schnellenberger would get another chance to coach, in a state where he made a name for himself. In 1998, a school in a suburb of Boca Raton, Florida, wanted to start a football program. Schnellenberger was chosen as Florida Atlantic’s director of football operations and then decided to coach the team. He had a quick vision for the Owls: after three years at the FCS level, they became an FBS program.

By this time he had laid down his whistle for health reasons, but he still wore his sports jacket, suspenders and tie on the sidelines. During his tenure as FAU’s head coach, he participated in two bowl games and also built a stadium on campus. When he retired in 2011, Schnellenberger had an overall record of 158-151-3. The stadium field is also named after him.

His resume includes not only championship rings (three wins as an assistant at Alabama, a win with the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972 and a win with Miami in 1983), but also the quarterbacks he has coached or recruited. While an assistant at Alabama in 1961, Schnellenberger convinced recruit Joe Namath of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, to sign with the Wave.

With the Hurricanes, he coached Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, who was part of the Miami U Quarterback Foundation.

Words of thanks Coach Howard cannot describe the respect, admiration and love I have for you and Beverly U Matter words because of you Coach U Matter pic.twitter.com/VtEyn2aMwb

– Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) 27. March 2021

And then there are the coaches he learned from. Schnellenberger played for Paul Bear Bryant at Kentucky and later coached him at Alabama. He also coached NFL Hall of Famers George Allen and Don Shula. Schnellenberger seized his chance as an NFL head coach and left the Dolphins after the 1972 season to take over the Baltimore Colts. But his tenure lasted just 17 games – he was sacked after a dispute with the owner following an 0-3 start in 1974.

Schnellenberger was born on 16. Born in Louisville in March 1934, he played at Kentucky from 1952-55 and was named All-America in his senior year. After a brief stint in the CFL, he began his coaching career at his alma mater before joining Bryant at Alabama.

After retiring from FAU, he served as an ambassador for the school and continued to live in the South Florida area. When Miami and FAU first faced off, Schnellenberger was an honorary co-captain in 2013.

He is survived by his wife Beverly, sons Stuart and Tim, and three grandchildren. His son Stephen preceded him in death.

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