Of the 12 coaches USF has scheduled to face, no one has made a larger impact on college football than Florida Atlantic’s Howard Schnellenberger.
During his time with the Miami Hurricanes in the early 1980s, Schnellenberger took over a program that once considered folding its football team and turned it into a national champion in 1983, his final year with the program.
His practice of only recruiting within the state of Florida helped transform Miami into one of the premier college football programs.
The tactic has been duplicated since then by other teams within the state: Florida, Florida State and USF. Of the 111 players on the Bulls’ roster, 103 are from within the state.
“I’ve always been impressed and very appreciative of what he’s done for college coaching,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “I appreciate all he’s stood up for. Anybody that has been in college coaching that long and has been that successful is real meaningful to me.”
After coaching for one year in Kentucky, Schnellenberger took a coaching position at Alabama under the legendary Bear Bryant and became a hot commodity when he recruited quarterback Joe Namath in 1961.
He was the offensive coordinator during the Miami Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season and was the head coach for the Baltimore Colts for two seasons.
Along with his successful recruiting at Miami, Schnellenberger installed a pass-oriented offense, enabling an exciting brand of football for the Hurricanes.
Following his tenure with the Hurricanes, Schnellenberger was at the helm in Louisville and Oklahoma.
When Schnellenberger was appointed director of football operations at Florida Atlantic in 1998, he closely followed the USF football program.
“I spent a couple of days up there and they were very gracious to me. They told me all the things they felt were important and all the things they would do differently if they had the chance,” Schnellenberger said. “It was a great help for me to walk through the minefields of failure to get to success.”
In 1999, the university elected to include football in its athletics and Schnellenberger appointed himself the team’s first head coach. Florida Atlantic played its first football game on Sept. 1, 2001.
Much like that of the Bulls, Florida Atlantic’s rise has been rapid. In just their 22nd game, the Owls defeated their first Division I opponent, the fastest in NCAA history.
“He’s done a great job there. (The record) is really impressive,” Leavitt said. “It’s unbelievable what he’s been able to do, and I’m so impressed.”
The Owls joined the Sun Belt Conference and Division I football in 2005 and have regularly scheduled the toughest non-conference schedule available.
This season, Florida Atlantic has already played Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Kentucky. In addition to their game against USF, the Owls travel to Gainesville on Nov. 17 to face the Gators.
While Schnellenberger has served as an inspiration for Leavitt, the 73-year-old has also taken something away from what USF’s only coach
“I’m so proud of what they’re doing because I look at them like an older brother,” Schnellenberger said. “I hoped that they would do what they’ve done. It’s become my problem that they’ve become so stellar and growing in stature beyond their years, and are in position to make history as the season winds down.”
While Alabama’s Nick Saban insinuated that USF has lax academic policies, and West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez took subtle shots at the program before the Mountaineers 21-13 loss last week, Schnellenberger has continually praised the Bulls’ efforts.
“We’re not catching South Florida at a very good time, from a win/loss standpoint and from a quality standpoint. We’re catching them at a great time to energize our support, our followers, our stadium builders and our financiers to inspire them,” Schnellenberger said. “(I hope USF) gives them a great example of what Florida Atlantic could be if we do the right things.”
Leavitt has been quick to return the kind words.
“I have a great respect for coach Schnellenberger, one of the great coaches of this game of football – we all know that,” Leavitt said. “The things that he has done in his life, in his tenure, in his career, are remarkable.”