Coach Howard Schnellenberger has been part of numerous championship teams. He learned from the best under Paul “Bear” Bryant and was an assistant on a handful of Alabama championship teams. He was also an assistant under Don Shula for the Miami Dolphins during the perfect 1972 Super Bowl season. But his crown and glory was being head coach of the 1983 University of Miami National Championship football team. He is now the head coach at Florida Atlantic University and is trying to build this very new division 1A program.
Listen to the Howard Schnellenberger CYInterview:
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: First off how are you?
Howard Schnellenberger: “We are doing fine. We are in our fourth day of practice. We have had good weather. Our players are trying hard.”
CY: Why did you decide to come back to head coaching at Florida Atlantic?
HS: “Well, I was in another line of work when Dr. Catanese, the president of Florida Atlantic University, gave me a call, and asked me to come up and talk with him about being his point man and put football into this young university. As I talked with him and analyzed the situation, it appeared to me that this was a very important endeavor. Very few coaches in their lifetime ever have a chance to be on the conceptual of developing a football program. After talking with my wife for a while, we decided this would be something very valuable for a long period of time and we would like to be a part of it.”
CY: You start the first four weeks of the college football season on September 2nd at Clemson, then at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and at South Carolina. What was the reason for scheduling four pretty good out of conference BCS schools to start the season?
HS: “They are better than pretty good. They are top of the line football teams, been around for 100 years or more. They were the best teams that we could find that had an opening in their schedule. We are using these games to be our advance training for our football squad so that we can make the quickest and best progress towards being competitive with these teams in the future. I am really thrilled that we have been able to put teams together like that and teams like Kansas, Minnesota, and Louisville who we played last year. Obviously Clemson will be the highest team we have played to date. We have the Florida Gators coming on the schedule in 2009 and 2011, Michigan State, and another two games with Minnesota. Got Nebraska coming on later in the decade. It’s really amazing to get these teams to come down here and play and on our campus in this early stage.”
CY: How far do you think this team is away from competing on a national level and is the ultimate goal to win the Sun Belt this year?
HS: “Logically, we have to believe we are a long way away. We are in the fourth year of our existence and second year as a division one team. It’s kind of hilarious to think that we would be there in a hurry. We are in the Sun Belt conference. Our goal is to win the Sun Belt conference. I think that’s a legitimate goal. If we can do that, that will be a major step towards becoming competitive at the higher level. By playing these goods teams then we can get there even faster.”
CY: There are numerous other college football universities in this state. How hard is the recruiting in state when you are going up against Florida, Miami, FSU, and even Central Florida and South Florida who just went to bowl games this past year and are on the up?
HS: “We are going up against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, and Auburn. They all come into the state to recruit our players. There is 350 players from the state of Florida that will get a division 1 scholarship each and every year on average. If all 11 schools could take their maximum amount which would be about 15, that would be less than 150. There is 200 young men that have to leave the state and find a scholarship. That is the reason why every school east of the Mississippi is down here recruiting and a lot of them from west of the Mississippi. It’s not just a matter of beating Miami, Florida, Central Florida, South Florida, FIU, and the other schools down here. It’s being able to compete with the carpetbaggers from the North.”
CY: You’ve taken over some underachieving teams in your day and made them winners. What is the first thing you do when you come in and take over an underachieving team?
HS: “Well, first you gather around your group of winning coaches who believe in your philosophy and are willing to work day and night to bring it to a success. From there you start recruiting, getting football players that want to come to your school and set the tradition that has been lacking for a lot of years. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla of going to a school that are winners who have great tradition. They need to bring in a bunch of givers and let the other schools take the takers.”
CY: What do you make of all the off field problems that have been reported at Oklahoma, Miami, Auburn, and Tennessee over the last month?
HS: “I think they are over publicized. I think there is a very small percentage of athletes that have problems. Because we are such a visible and such a popular entity of our society, the downfall of our players and coaches are really magnified. We got a lot of guys like yourself that are making their living off of football and for some reason want to accentuate the negatives.”
CY: In response to the comment above regarding journalists who write about football I said to Coach Schnellenberger, “Well, I try to talk to the person rather than just reporting a story without any sources.”
CY: What do you remember most about the night you coached the University of Miami to a National Championship win over Nebraska in 1983?
HS: “Well, I can remember a band of underdogs that nobody gave a chance to win, played to the height of their ability. Even in the final moments of the game when they could have been lost on one play, they rose up, defended the play, and won the game. It’s overachievement by a group of guys that had paid a big price to get to the point to have that chance.”
CY: You were the offensive coordinator for Paul “Bear” Bryant when Alabama won championships in 1961, 1964, and 1965. What do you remember most about the coach and do you have a story you most remember him by?
HS: “No. Not really. Most of his stories have been documented in books. The thing I remember about him is that I was recruited by him, played for him, and coached for him. He was a great coach because of intensity level. He treated his players like grown men. He asked a lot of them, conditioned them, and prepared them to give a lot. They were very proud. They believed they would win each time they took the field.”
CY: How much did he teach you about the game of coaching?
HS: “Well, I was blessed to have Don Shula as one of my mentors as I was coaching, and George Allen, Blanton Collier, along with Paul Bryant. He had a major impact on my life, but it’s a privilege to have those people that you take lessons from. The thing I learned from Coach Bryant was mental toughness, conditioning, and recruiting. Don Shula was consistency, treating his professional athletes like professional athletes. Giving them a lot of latitude to excel. George Allen was a master of bringing a group of older veterans together and playing really technically sound and high level football. Blanton Collier was considered to be the X’s and O’s of all coaches. He was a real strategist. He was known for his attention to detail.”
CY: You were an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins and was part of the 1972 perfect season. What do you remember about the team and season overall?
HS: “Well, I remember Don Shula preparing his team for a run like that. When the run began he knew how to handle it. Every game was an important game no matter how much of a favorite we were. No matter if we were an underdog preparation was the same. The emotional level was the same. It was a very consistent drive to the playoffs, and then through the playoffs to the Super Bowl, then once in the Super Bowl to win that game.”
CY: Finally, is Florida Atlantic your last stop as a head coach and how many years do you think you have left before you call it a retirement?
HS: “Well, I think it’s my last stop obviously. This is my ninth assignment. Beverly and I have been fortunate to be coaching here in Boca Raton, Florida at Florida Atlantic University. I intend to coach this team as long as my health stays good and we are making progress towards the ultimate goal.”
You can find more out about the Florida Atlantic University Football Program at http://fausports.cstv.com/