Howard Schnellenberger, legendary football coach, dead at 87

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Howard Schnellenberger, who coached the University of Miami football team to prominence and won the program’s first of five national championships, died Saturday. He was 87.

Schnellenberger’s family announced his passing through a statement issued to Florida Atlantic, where he finished a coaching career spanning 52 years as head coach from 2001-11.

At the very start, as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under the legendary Bear Bryant from 1961-65, Schnellenberger recruited Joe Namath to Tuscaloosa.

Though best known for his success in the college ranks – he coached Louisville and Oklahoma in between Miami and Florida Atlantic and compiled a 158-151-3 record – Schnellenberger spent nearly a decade in the NFL before most of it.

The offensive coordinator under Don Shula for the only undefeated Super Bowl champion in NFL history? That was Schnellenberger, who parlayed his success with the 1972 Dolphins into head coach of the Baltimore Colts.

After a three-game losing streak to start his second season at the helm, Schnellenberger was fired by owner Bob Irsay over a dispute on who should be starting at quarterback. Irsay infamously told the general manager and the locker room of the firing before he informed Schnellenberger.

Schnellenberger slipped back into his role as Dolphins offensive coordinator in 1975 and remained until taking over the Hurricanes in 1979.

The football program was almost dropped by the school before he arrived with the recruiting plan to “build a fence around South Florida” – the model for modern in-state recruiting – and a pass-oriented playbook when most national powers were still ground-and-pound.

“Without him, there is no Miami Football,” the program said in a statement.

Howard Schnellenberger
Howard Schnellenberger
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Miami was built around speed and athleticism as the top Florida high schoolers started staying home to play together.

With the program thriving, Schnellenberger, who had coached quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar, handed it off to the soon-to-be great Jimmy Johnson. Schnellenberger left to become part-owner, team president, general manager and head coach of a USFL franchise in Miami, but “The Spirit of Miami” never actually came to fruition.

Leaving Miami, Schnellenberger once said, was “if you look at it objectively, it was the dumbest thing a human being could do.”

Florida Atlantic plays on Howard Schnellenberger Field.

Schnellenberger suffered a subdural hematoma after a fall at his home last August. It is unknown if that is related to the cause of death.

“Howard treated me special, like a queen, and was truly a husband that every Canadian girl dreams of,” his widow Beverlee Schnellenberger, wife of 62 years, said in a statement. “You will always be my love, now and forever. I’m proud to be your wife. You were a great leader of men and the leader of our lives.”

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