He’s 77 years old and has been coaching football for 52 years.
Howard Schnellenberger will hang it up Saturday following his Florida Atlantic team’s final regular season game against Louisiana Monroe in Boca Raton, Fla. The end of a trail that included stints with three National Football League teams and six college programs. Along the way, he won a national championship at Miami, in 1983.
Schnellenberger arrived at the University of Louisville in 1985, bringing great aspirations to a school where some fatalists had been wanting to punt on the sport of football. The fact that U of L was playing an old baseball stadium didn’t phase him.
The man saw potential where no one else could or would, proclaiming at his first press conference, that the program “is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.” That pronouncement, carried live on WHAS radio, sparked an unprecedented interest in UofL football. And in a day when the BCS had yet to be conceived, Schnellenberger had fans believing it could happen. He was an instant celebrity, of course, drawing large crowds wherever he appeared, and he seemed to everywhere in town promoting UofL football.
The observer recalls the night at a local dinning establishment when Howard himself walked through the front door, wearing a red U of L baseball cap. All eyes in the restaurant were upon him, hands reaching out from everywhere to pat him on the back, shake his hand and wish him well.
Then he turns to the table where we are sitting, reaches out and grabs the UofL baseball cap off our 9-year-old son’s head. “Young man, I like your hat and that’s the hat I’m going to take home,” he growled in that gravely voice of his. With that, Schnellenberger takes his hat off, autographs it and puts it on junior, leaving him speechless. The coach then plops Steve’s newly-purchased hat on his head.
Schnellenberger was an accomplished football coach, a bit old-timey and nostalgic but bringing with him a brash confidence. He was respected, even among his detractors. He would be responsible for getting stadium talk started in Louisville and would later have the football offices bear his name. He would get a football series going with a rival that didn’t want to play UofL, instantly increasing football enthusiasm in a state that worshiped basketball.
He would leave for Oklahoma the same year UofL decided to join the Metro Conference, focusing on basketball, leaving football hanging. Schnellenberger believed total independence would have been more conducive to achieving his ultimate goal at Louisville. Some believed he would not have left otherwise, even though Oklahoma was the school calling him.
Schnellenberger would leave having achieved a 54-56 won-lost record during his nine seasons, including bowl wins over Alabama and Michigan State, a larger, more devoted fan base, and a stronger foundation for his predecessors to build upon.
And tons of respect for Howard Schnellenberger from appreciative fans.