When he was looking for a head coach for the University of Louisville football program in 1985, athletic director Bill Olsen made a call to Gil Brandt, who was director of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys.
“Gil gave me two lists, an A List that included the best coaches in the game at the time and a B List of individuals who might take the Louisville job,” recalls Olsen. “We weren’t anywhere close to being respectable in football at the time. That’s why he gave me two lists.”
Howard Schnellenberger’s name was at the top of Brandt’s A List. He just happened to be looking around, unemployed with the collapse of the professional US Football League — a couple of years after winning the national championship at Miami.
“I didn’t want to settle for just anybody, I wanted the best so we went for Schnellenberger” says Olsen. “Howard was a Louisville native, his mom lived here and he had a lot of friends here.”
Other names on the A List included Mack Brown, then offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, now head coach at Texas; Glenn Mason, then at Kent State, now at Minnesota; and Watson Brown, then at Rice, now at Tennessee Tech.
While he won’t disclose the B List, Olsen will say that Roy Kidd, then at Eastern Kentucky, and Mike Gottfried, a broadcaster and former coach at Kansas and Pittsburgh were in the discussions. “Some members of the search committee even wanted to bring back Lee Corso,” he recalls.
“But our first choice was always Schnellenberger,” he says. “Our facilities weren’t all that great, playing in an old baseball stadium. But he was impressed that U of L had priority on WHAS Radio at the time. We got a lot of help from his friends, people like Paul Hornung, Tom DeMuth, Paulie Miller and Jim Murphy. Governor John Y. Brown, Jr. got involved as well.
“I think Howard made the decision to come to Louisville because he saw an opportunity to build something here,” he concludes. “There’s no denying that he made a significant impact on U of L football.”