NCAA FOOTBALL: Miami-FAU a tribute to Schnellenberger's vision
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — A case could be made that Miami and Florida Atlantic are football brothers.
After all, the programs have the same father.
The Hurricanes and the Owls play Friday to open their seasons and pay tribute to former coach Howard Schnellenberger — who led Miami into the spotlight by winning the school's first national championship in 1983, 15 years before he began building Florida Atlantic's program from scratch.
It's the first time the schools have met in football, and starts a three-game, four-year series.
“That was the genesis of the game, that we would celebrate what he has done for both programs, really starting both programs at the end of the day,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “He's a man who owes me nothing but treats me with great respect and imparts great wisdom every time I see him. We're blessed to have him in our family. I know FAU probably feels the same way.”
Schnellenberger will be the honorary captain for both teams. Dozens of his former Miami players are expected to attend for a 30th anniversary celebration of the school's first title — a move Schnellenberger calls “putting the sugar on the cake of this game.”
He coached Miami for five years, with the Hurricanes’ win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl after the 1983 season his most memorable, and his last. Schnellenberger left not long after that game to take the reins of a USFL franchise that never got off the ground, and has often said he regrets that move.
“It's a thrilling experience to see this series come to maturity now, come to pass,” Schnellenberger said. “It's going to happen. We talked about this game for a long time. This is the birth of a very important rivalry series that's about to unfold.”
Even though he follows Miami, he's rooting for FAU.
“This is my team,” Schnellenberger said.
He's considered the architect of Miami football, even though the program had been around for six-plus decades when he arrived. Miami wasn't much of a winner before Schnellenberger; the school considered dropping football in the 1970s and went 13 years without a bowl appearance before he guided them to the Peach Bowl after the 1980 season.
Their next bowl game ended the 1983 season, and national title No. 1 was claimed in the Orange Bowl, with Albert Bentley scoring the final Miami touchdown in a 31-30 victory.
“We have five national championships, but if Howard had stayed, we'd have at least 10,” said Bentley, a former NFL player who's now a financial adviser in Fort Myers, Fla. “What he did was like laying the tracks to go out west. The trains and everything else wouldn't have gotten there without the tracks being laid first. That's really what Coach Schnellenberger did.”
In that Orange Bowl, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne probably could have clinched the national title by having his team kick an extra point in the final moments and settling for a tie. The Cornhuskers elected to go for a two-point conversion instead, a pass play broken up by Miami's Kenny Calhoun.
The Hurricanes — and Schnellenberger — have been part of college football lore ever since.
“If he didn't go, if he would have stayed, we would have won more championships,” said Calhoun, a captain in the Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. “He took an opportunity that he had to better himself, better his family. That's what the game is all about. If you have opportunity, you should seize it. He was a great coach. He was a great man. He practiced what he preached. And he won.”
FAU coach Carl Pelini also has ties to the backstory behind this game. Not only did he replace Schnellenberger, the only other coach in FAU's history, but he came to the Owls from Nebraska — where his brother Bo Pelini is the head coach.
“Coach Schnellenberger, he had an amazing career,” said Pelini, who also revealed that he sacked Bernie Kosar — Miami's quarterback in that Orange Bowl — when they were high schoolers. “He built that program. It's something that will go down in history as an amazing accomplishment, what he was able to do for Miami football and the university in general.”
Schnellenberger played for and later coached with Bear Bryant, recruited Joe Namath to Alabama and ran the offense as part of Don Shula's staff for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only team to finish an NFL season unbeaten.
But his legacy, said Miami assistant Art Kehoe — who played at the school before working under Schnellenberger — is what he did with the Hurricanes.
“My junior year, we voted 6-5 to keep football. We were going to drop football and he took it from there to a national title,” Kehoe said. “The guy's an unbelievable coach. ... Heck, we couldn't pay the phone bill. And now we've got five national titles and played for 11 of them and he's the main fabric of all that. He started it all.”