Legendary Coach Howard Schnellenberger dies at 87

The former assistant coach helped Bear Bryant lead his first dynasty and sparked the Miami Hurricanes football dynasty
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Howard Schnellenberger, the coach of Miami's national championship, and who turned a fledging program into a dynasty, died on Saturday, his family announced. He was 87.

Of course, before he became a legendary head coach, he was a prominent assistant coach at the University of Alabama under Paul W. "Bear" Bryant. 

In 2014, he made a rare appearance at Bryant-Denny Stadium to help celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the 1964 title team.

“It’ll be like going back to mecca,” Howard Schnellenberger said. “Going back to the fatherland. It’ll be like going back to a national monument.”

After being hired just a couple of years out of college, Schnellenberger was Paul W. “Bear” Bryant’s offensive coordinator from 1961-65. During their five seasons together the Crimson Tide won three national championships.

“I was coming out of the University of Kentucky and just my second year of coaching when Coach Bryant asked me to come down there,” Schnellenberger said. “I had no idea how good they were.”

That initial season, 1961, ended with Bryant’s first title.

“Winning the national championship my first year there as a coach, I thought, ‘Well this is pretty easy stuff,’” Schnellenberger said with a laugh.

“Like all his teams at that time he talent level was average at best and his coaching was stellar. They went out and played superior football on any given Saturday, holding their opponents to just two points a game. That allowed our offense to play a conservative game.”

The strategy was always tweaked depending on Alabama’s personnel, especially in 1964, when the Crimson Tide went from being ranked sixth in the preseason Associated Press poll only to lose starting quarterback Joe Namath to a knee injury against North Carolina State.

Steve Sloan replaced him and led victories against Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU, but at Georgia Tech the limited Namath entered a scoreless game late in the second quarter. By halftime, it was 14-0, en route to a 24-7 victory.

When Namath had a similar performance against Auburn on Thanksgiving Day, with a touchdown pass to end Ray Perkins along with Ray Ogden’s 108-yard kickoff return sparking a 21-41 victory, his legendary status really began to really take hold. Of course, the undefeated (10-0) record didn’t hurt, either.

Combined with Notre Dame’s loss to Southern California, Alabama vaulted to No. 1 in the final Associated Press Poll (the last time the final voting was held before the postseason), and received an invitation to face Texas in the first Orange Bowl played at night.

After Sloan hurt his knee during the first half, Namath was again was the spark plug off the bench. However, in the closing seconds, Alabama was down 21-17 and had the ball inches away from the goal line. The call was a quarterback sneak behind center Gaylon McCollough, who with the snap plowed toward the end zone. One official signaled touchdown, but another overruled.

Namath said afterward: “I’ll go to my grave knowing I scored.”

"You just can't say enough about Texas," Bryant said after the game. "They are a great ball club and that goal-line stand was superb. I called every play on the goal-line drive, but Texas just whipped us on the line. It's just that plain and simple."

Alabama’s quarterbacks set numerous Orange Bowl passing records, including Namath completing 18 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns while earning the game's MVP award.

"I've never been so scared," Texas middle linebacker Tommy Nobis was quoted as saying. "Namath was great. I was scared the whole second half."

"He's the best I've ever seen,” Texas defensive backs coach Willie Zapalac said. “I'd hate to see him on two good legs."

Guard Wayne Freeman, tackle Dan Kearley and halfback/kicker David Ray were named to various All-American teams and back Mickey Andrews was a second-team selection. Known for more than just a stifling defense, Alabama outscored its opponents 250-88.

“The five years I was with him his record was all wins except for four loses,” said Schnellenberger, who left before the 1966 season to take a job in the NFL as the receivers coach of the Los Angeles Rams under George Allen.

“Five bowl games, all wins but one loss. A dynasty that will live in the hearts of men forever.”

Of course, Schnellenberger went on to be quite a head coach himself, with stints at Oklahoma, Louisville, Miami — where the program won its first national championship — Florida Atlantic and the NFL’s Baltimore Colts.

All of that, along with his Alabama years and recruiting Namath, were touched upon his book, Passing the Torch: Building Winning Football Programs...with a Dose of Swagger Along the Way, co-written by Ronald C. Smith.

His 2014 visit marked the first time in 35 years that he stood on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium. During his first season leading the Hurricanes they lost 30-0 to Alabama, which went on to win Bryant’s final national title in 1979.

He only faced the Crimson Tide one other time as a head coach, with Louisville in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl (a 34-7 victory).