Howard Schnellenberger speaks at Little Rock Touchdown Club Part 1

I got to hear Howard Schnellenberger speak on 9-4-12 at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. I enjoyed hearing his stories about Bear Bryant and what he learned from the Bear. Here is a story by Jim Harris that discusses these too things.

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9/4/2012 at 3:30pm

Howard Schnellenberger leaned on mentor Bear Bryant in building three college football programs.
Image by Florida Atlantic University

Howard Schnellenberger leaned on mentor Bear Bryant in building three college football programs.

Howard Schnellenberger, now enjoying retirement in Boca Raton, Fla., after his last college football building job ended last season, reveres Paul “Bear” Bryant. The respect is easy to detect simply by listening – the way he goes on, stops, and adds yet another tidbit about the legendary coach.

Bryant’s staff at Alabama included Schnellenberger in the rip-roaring 1960s, when Bryant returned Alabama to college football dominance. Schnellenberger was also recruited by Bryant to Kentucky in 1952, and he was among the 40 Wildcats to survive Millersburg — the precursor to “Junction” for Bryant’s first Texas A&M team. Schnellenberger says the legend of Junction’s toughness was “bull****”. Junction was eight days, he said, while Millersburg training camp lasted six weeks.

Either way, Bryant weeded out the guys who weren’t committed to winning, and obviously Schnellenberger was. So was a guy named Frank Namath, whose little brother Joe would be recruited to Alabama by Schnellenberger in 1961.

Bear Bryant took over struggling programs at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama and made them champions.

Schellenberger didn’t have the same luxury of assuming programs with a strong booster base with high expectations of winning. Instead, he took over a Miami of Florida whose board was ready to give up big-time football aspirations in the late 1970s, or a Louisville football program in the late 1980s that lived in the shadow of a national basketball powerhouse, or a Florida Atlantic football team that didn’t exist until he arrived in 2002.

He leaned on what he’d learned from Bryant, as well as his time spent as offensive coordinator for Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula, including one of his most cherished seasons in football: the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team.

Schnellenberger is 78 now, still working for FAU as it builds an athletic war chest to pay its way into a conference such as the Big East, and he’s out on the speaking circuit, which brought him here Tuesday for a Little Rock Touchdown Club luncheon.

He enlightened a few local members of the media afterward as to how he built the Miami, Louisville and FAU programs literally from scratch.

“You’ve got to have the dream. You’ve got to believe in that dream. You’ve got to first of all tell somebody and shout it from the mountaintop, and tell every writer that you can find what your dream is,” he said.

“Now, if you tell somebody, it becomes a goal. And if it’s a goal you can get everybody to buy in to that goal, then you’ve got a chance to win the national championship. If you don’t do those three things, you have no chance. There is nobody that ever won a championship that didn’t believe in it and work like hell to do it. But if it’s not your ultimate goal, then you’re cheating your employer, the university, the mothers and fathers of the players, and the players, the student body and everybody.

“And if you aren’t man enough to stand up and say you’re going to win the national championship in five years then you don’t have a right to coach.”

Heady stuff, but Schnellenberger did just that: promise a national championship at Miami in five years and pull it off with a team led by Bernie Kosar that knocked off Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl 31-30.

Then, he followed a terrific recruiting class with another in 1984 — “nobody ever brought in 60 players over two years like those players,” he said Tuesday — before suddenly taking a job to coach in the fledgling United States Football League. Miami would continue its rise under Jimmy Johnson and then Dennis Erickson, winning five more national titles for a total of six in a 15-year period.

Of course, that was Bryant-like dominance — Alabama won six national titles from 1961-79.

Schnellenberger was enticed by part-ownership of a USFL franchise, but the league folded quickly. He wasn’t out of work long.

But, along with the successes at Louisville (which coincidentally gained national acclaim and major fan support after beating Alabama and Bryant disciple Gene Stallings 34-7 in a bowl game) and FAU, Schnellenberger made a couple of missteps. He lasted just one season at Oklahoma, and he reminded us he was fired on national TV by late Indianapolis Colts owner Bob Irsay too. In both cases, had he heeded Bear Bryant’s words, he wouldn’t have been in those situations, he said.

“I broke one of Coach Bryant’s cardinal rules,” Schnellenberger said. “Coach Bryant said, when you’re taking a job always make sure you’re hired by the highest man who can hire you or the professional owner.”

Then Colts general manager Jim Thomas hired Schnellenberger, rather than Irsay, who later wanted to tell the coach which quarterback to play in a game. Schnellenberger disagreed and lost his job that day. At OU, then Sooners athletic director Donnie Duncan hired Schnellenberger before the new OU president, former U.S. Sen. David Boren, had arrived. Schnellenberger soon realized Boren had someone else in mind to run the program.

That wasn’t the case at Miami, or Louisville, or FAU. And college football fans have heard about the programs chiefly through Schnellenberger’s almost fatherly love of raising a child into a young man and warrior.

Email: jharris@abpg.com. Also follow Jim on Twitter @jimharris360

 

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