We're less than a week away from Husker football season! One week away from the Florida Atlantic Owls and Howard Schnellenberger coming to Nebraska! Schnellenberger was the coach of the Miami Hurriances on that fateful night in 1984 when Tom Osborne elected to go for two instead of settling for a tie. Osborne's choice gave Schnellenberger his national title.
Ted Hutton is the expert on Howard Schnellenberger, "The Voice", as Hutton refers to him. Hutton has been covering the Florida Atlantic Owls for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel since the Owls started their football program in 2001. He's got a blog that's pretty interesting, and given the few photos I've stolen from him, perhaps you should stop by his place a lot this week.
My understanding is that Howard Schnellenberger has an almost mystical quality to him in Florida - can you explain why he's so revered?
Howard is revered for what he did first with the Dolphins (offensive coordinator under Don Shula on the back-to-back Super Bowl teams,. including the undefeated team), followed up by what he did at University of Miami, which was take a downtrodden program that was in jeopardy of being junked and in a few short years won a national championship in dramatic fashion, in an Orange Bowl game some Husker fans may recall.
Back then Schnellenberger's face was on billboards and in newspapers and on TV -- there were only the Dolphins and Hurricanes back then, so Howard was Huge.
Even when he left for Louisville, people never held it against him. They are still grateful for the guy who turned the Canes into a national power. The kids he recruits now don't know him, but their moms and dads do.
Same thing in Louisville. He left after 10 years because he didn't agree with the decision to join a conference (back then you could still win a national championship as an independent, which is how he did it at Miami), but nobody in Kentucky holds it against him. He is beloved, and they named the athletic training complex after him.
And believe me, he is revered, beloved and all that at FAU. He started the program from scratch, had the Owls in the I-AA semifinals in year three, and in year seven they won the Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl and in year eight they won the Motor City Bowl, and here we are heading into year nine.
Unfortunately, in the midwest, Schnellenberger isn't looked upon with such high regard. Can you explain the discrepancy?
As far as the midwest, I assume it is for that lost year at Oklahoma (1995). A disaster all the way around, and he is still blamed by Sooner fans for all that went wrong, even though he was there just one year. I guess he's the outsider, but I still can't figure that out. This is his 25th years as head college coach, and he had one bad year.
You call Schnellenberger "The Voice" - What's up with that?
The Voice. Well, he used to be known as "The Pipe", but he gave that up when he had grandkids. His wife made the ultimatum: the pipe or seeing your grandkids, and he chose the grandkids. That left his distinctive voice, which he uses with great flourish, and usually waves away a microphone since his rumbling tones are pretty loud. Plus he really is The Voice of the team and the program, and to some extent, the university.
Whenever Schnellenberger's name comes up on message board threads (or some articles), I frequently see references to a drinking problem. Is there something to this, or is this some bullshit made up of Internet lore?
I can tell you this -- I have covered the team since year one, and I have never seen Schnellenberger drink anything other than Diet Pepsi. I know there were a lot of rumors and whispering about drinking (mainly from Oklahoma, imagine that), but let's just say it has never, ever been an issue at FAU.
Last season he went into the Texas game challenging the Longhorns' toughness and was subsequently beaten badly. This year you're burning a giant ‘N' during the first pep rally. How will the Owls approach this year's game with Nebraska? What about Howard's approach?
Howard made a very rare misstep last year when he was talking to a student TV station and said Texas was soft. This followed what might have been a bigger mistake when he used a gathering of reporters to declare that Rusty Smith would be a first round draft pick. Up to that point, Howard was always very careful about what he said about his players and opponents. It was always the usual coach speak.
The combination of those two quotes was to ensure FAU would not sneak up on the Longhorns, and suddenly had Smith answering questions about the NFL rather than the upcoming game. Texas would have mopped the floor with the Owls anyway, but Rusty got hurt in that game and never got back to his old self until midway through the season. It showed, as FAU started 1-5 and finished 6-1.
The bonfire is just a harmless way of starting a tradition, something FAU has little of. This is still a commuter school, and to get a gathering of students on campus at night is pretty hard. This is a good way of doing it. Nothing personal, Nebraska, The bonfire is the first Thursday after the start of classes and they burn something representative of their first opponent.
Last year it was a wooden Bevo, this year a plywood N.
I can say that Howard appears to have learned from what happened last year, and he hasn't mentioned Rusty and the draft in the same sentence, and he has heaped the usual praise on Nebraska. He did say FAU has a chance to win the game, but that it would be because they get a lot of turnovers and squeeze past them in the fourth quarter. I trust Husker fans won't consider that a slap in the face, because no coach is going to say his team has no chance. Just remember Appalachian State.
How far can Schnellenberger realistically take the Florida Atlantic program?
FAU is in the Sun Belt, which means its growth is stunted and they will go as far as Boise State, Utah, Hawaii. The Owls will be at or near the top of the Belt as long as they are in it due to the recruiting base in Florida. There is a ton of talent here, and FAU is getting kids to stay near home rather then head north. But being in a non-BCS conference means no national championship. Just can't happen.
Another factor is that Howard is 75. He's in great shape and appears to get younger every year, but he is running out of time. The on-campus stadium should be ready in 2011, and that will be his lasting legacy. He wanted one in Miami and Louisville, and Miami never got one but Louisville did, though it came after Howard was gone.
Being able to walk onto the field of the new stadium that he pretty much got built himself, and coach a team that has had only him as coach and came so far so fast, anything after that is just gravy.
Thanks to Ted Hutton for great insight into Howard Schnellenberger.
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