Longtime coach Howard Schnellenberger dies at 87

NCAA Football - FedEx Orange Bowl - Louisville vs Wake Forest - January 2, 2007
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Howard Schnellenberger, whose football coaching career spanned more than half a century, has died at the age of 87.

Schnellenberger is best remembered for his long and successful career coaching in college, but he also had stints in the NFL, most notably as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1973 and 1974, and offensive coordinator of the 1972 Dolphins, the only undefeated, untied team in NFL history.

An All-American end at Kentucky in the 1950s, Schnellenberger started his coaching career at his alma mater and then became offensive coordinator at Alabama under Bear Bryant, who coached him at Kentucky, in 1961. After five years at Alabama, Schnellenberger went to work for Hall of Fame coach George Allen on the staff of the Los Angeles Rams, and then took another job for a Hall of Fame coach, Don Shula, on the Miami Dolphins.

With the Dolphins Schnellenberger earned a reputation as one of the best assistants in football, culminating in the only perfect season in NFL history in 1972, and that got him hired by the Colts in 1973. His tenure in Baltimore was ill-fated, as he butted heads with team owner Robert Irsay. After a dispute between Schnellenberger and Irsay over who should be the Colts’ starting quarterback, Irsay walked into the Colts’ locker room following the third game of the 1974 season and informed the players he had fired Schnellenberger — something Irsay hadn’t bothered to tell Schnellenberger, who found out about it when he heard Irsay addressing the players.

I have just fired the coach,” Irsay said. “There was no other way. The Baltimore Colts will go on that field to win even if I have to play myself.”

Shula soon re-hired Schnellenberger, who spent four more seasons as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator before becoming head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. That was where Schnellenberger had his greatest success. The Hurricanes program was struggling when Schnellenberger arrived and hadn’t finished in the Top 20 in more than a decade, but Schnellenberger engineered a turnaround that saw the Hurricanes win the national championship in his fifth season.

After that national championship, Schnellenberger shocked the football world by resigning to become head coach of a new Miami team in the United States Football League, but the deal collapsed, Miami never joined the USFL, and Schnellenberger never coached in the upstart league.

Schnellenberger still had plenty more coaching left in him however, spending a decade as head coach at Louisville, one year at Oklahoma and then a decade at Florida Atlantic before he finally retired in 2011. Florida Atlantic now plays on Howard Schnellenberger Field.

14 responses to “Longtime coach Howard Schnellenberger dies at 87

  1. Coach liked rebuilding and building programs. He has a tremendous legacy. May he Rest In Peace.

  2. He was was actively rumored as a candidate to become Giants coach during Parcells’ dismal rookie season in ‘83 (he was 3-12-1.) Imagine if that went down and the ripple effect.

  3. The 72 dolphins had the most unstoppable offense in history..the no name defense was ok but they only had to play like 15 minutes a game ..Kiick..Czonka(..Mercury…repeat

  4. Imagine what his legacy would have been if stayed at the “U” after they beat Nebraska. He would have been the all time king of college football. He had the “State of Miami” roped off and would have gotten any player he wanted. RIP Howard.

  5. boozer32 says:
    March 27, 2021 at 10:46 am
    The 72 dolphins had the most unstoppable offense in history..the no name defense was ok but they only had to play like 15 minutes a game ..Kiick..Czonka(..Mercury…repeat
    ’72 defense carried that team. Most unstoppable offense ever? Try again…. Great rushing attack, but their defense never let them fall way behind in ANY game. They were not built to comeback from 7 or more points down. The ’73 team was better. ’72 team played easiest schedule ever for a SB champ and outscored their opponents in the playoffs by a TOTAL of 17 points in the 3 games. ’73 defense only allowed 10 PPG and they rolled through the playoffs, outscoring the opposition by 52 points in the 3 games.

  6. Rest easy coach, I met the man outside of Joe Robbie stadium a few years ago and asked him to sign the only thing I had, the Dolphins hat on my head that Publix had as the giveaway for that game; he kindly signed it and wished my family well, I did the same and thanked him for decades of entertainment. He was a good man from all that I know, I even had friends play for him at FAU and worshiped him.

  7. The offense also had Paul Warfield, who took at least 2 players with him on every play. He didn’t rack the stats, but really helped the running game. And they lost Griese early in the season, Earl Morrall was in for most of their regular season wins. Helluva job by their coach.
    They were a balanced team without egos and that’s why they won; but they were known for their offense at that time. That running game just beat people up and ate the clock, then handed the ball to Csonka in the 4th quarter to finish the game.

  8. An absolutely iconic coach. The national championship game he won at Miami could be his crowning achievement. He was the coach who put that program on the map. RIP Coach. You were loved by all.

  9. Great coach all-around. How can anyone give these comments a dislike? Pretty sad!

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