Miami, that boggling town, is in love. It doesn't fall in love all that often, being the wary, conned-out kind of place that it is, but it's in love with Howard Schnellenberger. For years the longest name in football coaching—15, count 'em, 15 letters—Schnellenberger is now the hottest. Not since Don Shula has Miami been so smitten.
Right now Schnellenberger's in love with Miami, too. He'd have to be to keep turning down the money other places keep shoving at him to come coach. He stays because of love—he loves the town, he loves the University of Miami, his glamorous working wife, Beverlee, loves the local real estate market—and because he has a team that thinks it can beat No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2. What he doesn't have is any more tickets for the game, so don't ask.
Miami thinks it can beat Nebraska because it believes in Schnellenberger. The Hurricanes were created in his image. Tony Fitzpatrick, the feisty, vital middle guard whom nobody in the country recruited except Liberty Baptist College and Schnellenberger, has set a speed record for recovering from a torn biceps tendon in his left arm just so he can line up against the dreaded Cornhuskers and their 545-yards-and-a-crowd-of-busted-bodies offense. Fitzpatrick dreads facing the Huskers the way a hungry soldier dreads the mess hall. He says it's "the dream of my life come true."
But does he really believe 11-point-underdog Miami has a chance? Fitzpatrick smiles the same tight-lipped smile Schnellenberger smiles—except with Schnellenberger you can't see the lips, only the corners of his Captain Kangaroo mustache lifting. It's the smile people smile when they know something you don't know. Fitzpatrick says he "can hardly wait" to hear Schnellenberger's inspirational—and always eminently believable—remarks the week of the game.
December 26, 1983
Everybody believes Schnellenberger. And why not? In the first place, he keeps doing whatever he says he's going to do. Two years ago, before Miami's nationally televised game against Notre Dame, ABC proposed that Schnellenberger allow a camera into the Hurricanes' dressing room at halftime to record his remarks. Schnellenberger demurred. He said, "It could be pretty lopsided by half-time." The ABC producer said he could sympathize with that, with Miami playing fabled Notre Dame and all.
"No," said Schnellenberger, "I mean we might be so far ahead I might not have to say anything." The corners of his mustache lifted. The producer said he would tape Schnellenberger's pregame remarks. Miami led 30-6 at the half and won 37-15.
When Schnellenberger arrived on campus in 1979, the Hurricanes had had a losing record in eight of their last 10 seasons. Since then they've gone 40-16. This season, after opening with a 28-3 loss at Florida, Miami has reeled off 10 straight victories and climbed to No. 4 in the nation. And at home the Hurricanes have been a dreadnought under Schnellenberger, winning 24 of 26 games there, including two routs of Notre Dame and a stunning 1981 upset of then top-ranked Penn State. The Orange Bowl—need Nebraska be reminded?—is, of course, home for the Hurricanes.
In the second place, Schnellenberger looks like a guy who does what he says he's going to do. He's not the steely, slick Kirk Douglas type Shula is; he's the hard-eyed, rough-hewn, slightly disheveled John Wayne type you would follow into Comanche territory if you could ride in his horse's shadow. Schnellenberger fits the Bear Bryant image better than anyone you'll find, which is understandable because Schnellenberger played for two years under Bryant at Kentucky and coached under him for five years at Alabama. Moreover, he smokes a pipe, the eternal symbol, Schnellenberger says, mustache dancing, "of maturity, patience and tolerance. Did you ever meet a pipe smoker you couldn't trust?"
Schnellenberger easily rivals Shula as the most visible man in Miami—or, as he puts it during the recruiting season, "the State of Miami." The State of Miami includes portions of Florida he "annexed, one by one, in the still of the night" from bitter rival University of Florida. Among the purloined territories are Tampa, Orlando and Daytona Beach. They're some of the richest areas in the nation for high school football talent, and Miami now mines them for 85% of its players, compared with 30% a decade ago. How did the Gators take this annexation? "Lying down," says Schnellenberger.
Even more than Shula, Schnellenberger involves himself in the entire Miami scene, especially the charities—Easter Seal telethons (as chairman), Boy Scout recruiting, programs for drug-dependency groups and the ailing aged, and, his favorite, the Partners for Youth program that has raised $1 million for disadvantaged kids. Lately, university President Tad Foote has been using Schnellenberger to recruit honor students for the school. Two weeks ago he addressed 400 of them in New York City. "By comparison, Shula is a one-dimensional guy," says a mutual friend. "A great coach, but all football and very commercial. Howard will sell you Miami. Shula will sell you a Ford."
Well, that's not quite it either. Schnellenberger is also "commercial," which is one reason he's a visible $250,000-a-year man who can afford not to accept jobs like Kentucky's triple-your-salary offer two years ago and the pro bids that keep coming his way. His most prominent paying hype is for automobile tires, and he is, to say the least, an inspirational—and memorable—pitchman. One day in his dentist's office a patient swallowed a filling and was choking to death. Schnellenberger heard the commotion, rushed in from the waiting room and, from behind, locked his arms under the man's diaphragm and jerked him into the air. The man coughed up the filling. When he saw who his savior was, he gasped, "Hey, I bought some of your tires!"
It's altogether fitting that Miami should be in this, the 50th Orange Bowl game, because it played in the first—vs. Bucknell—in 1935. However, the last time the Hurricanes got invited was in 1950, the year they first crashed into the "big time" by upsetting Purdue, which the week before had snapped a 39-game Notre Dame unbeaten streak. Perhaps a third of the city—then much less populous, of course—crowded Miami airport to welcome the team home from Purdue.
Getting that old-time religion, an estimated 7,000 Hurricane fans jammed the school's baseball field on Nov. 19 just to see Miami receive its Orange Bowl invitation. Schnellenberger got the Metro Rail, not yet officially in operation, to run a trainload of fans to the nearby station. A jazz band played and a 17-motorcycle escort ushered in the motorcade carrying players, coaches, Foote and a knot of Orange Bowl Committee reps, all beaming. Never one to let an estimate stand in the way of a better estimate, Schnellenberger said afterward, "It was terrific—10,000 people yelling and stomping. Bob Devaney [the Nebraska athletic director and former coach] was there. He said he never saw anything like it."
What Miami football has never seen is anything like Schnellenberger. Coach Bobby Bowden of Florida State says, "He's the best thing Miami has," a coach everybody would like to have. Bowden marvels at the promotional élan that this basically shy whopper of a man has demonstrated in bringing the Hurricanes to full force. For not only does Schnellenberger have what Bryant called "one of the keenest coaching minds" he ever knew, but he also has the heart and soul of a born p.r. man. Day in, day out, Schnellenberger promotes Miami football to beat the band, as well as the Irish, the Seminoles and the Gators.
Shortly after the Hurricanes got their bid, Schnellenberger was being driven across campus by a secretary to kick off a lottery for the 1,200 Orange Bowl tickets Miami students were originally allotted. The drawing wasn't ballyhooed, partly in fear of a riot. "That's my low-key ticket manager's way of promoting," growled Schnellenberger. "I'd have had the band and the cheerleaders."
Schnellenberger pointed out that the students were threatening to sue for more tickets and that the student body president was "up in arms." When his companion commiserated with him, Schnellenberger said, "Oh, no, that's not bad. That's great! Can you imagine having to sue to get a ticket to one of our games?" He said he could remember when they couldn't give 'em away.
Schnellenberger was born with a wooden spoon in his mouth in St. Meinrad, Ind. 49 years ago. When he was two his German-born father, Leslie, a stonemason, moved the family to Louisville. Leslie borrowed the money to buy a tractor-trailer rig and went on the road as a wildcat hauler. Schnellenberger's mother, Rosena, who's also German, worked as a waitress and in a munitions factory and ran the family—soon to include two more boys and a girl—with a firm hand. "I don't remember her kissing me until I was 40," says Schnellenberger. "But I do remember her tapping me with the belt. She didn't have to do it often. I learn fast." Once, he says, when he missed a curfew, she called the cops.
Schnellenberger, very loosely, means quick (schnell) villager (berger). At Louisville Flaget High he was all-state as an end in football and as a forward in basketball, but he says speed wasn't a factor in his success: "I was the reason they invented the term 'he can catch it in a crowd.' I caught a lot of balls in crowds. I couldn't get out of them."
Andy Gustafson, the Miami coach at the time, invited Schnellenberger down for a tryout in 1952. "Tryouts were legal then," says Schnellenberger. "We scrimmaged for two-and-a-half hours, the most hellacious scrimmage you ever saw." Gustafson offered a scholarship and Schnellenberger accepted. A week later, in Louisville, The Bear dropped by—with the governor of Kentucky, Lawrence Wetherby. Schnellenberger said he was flattered, "but I'm going to Miami." His mother told Howard she was proud that he had held to his convictions. A week later Bryant was back, this time with John Floersh, the archbishop of Louisville. Leslie and Rosena, says Howard, were "practically devout" Catholics. Rosena said Kentucky sounded like a great place to go to school.
Bryant had gone to Texas A&M, and Blanton Collier was the coach by the time Schnellenberger made All-America in 1955 as a Kentucky senior. But "every athlete has a plateau," he says, "and mine as a player was the college level. If I could have run faster, I'd still be playing. I loved to play."
Though he'd been drafted by the Washington Redskins, Schnellenberger signed with Hamilton of the Canadian league for a "third more money, but only $9,000, which should have told me something." He was cut the first season and then drafted into the Army. "Being German, I figured it was the place to make myself fast," he says. "At the time I weighed 228 pounds and ran the 40 in 5.2 seconds. I knew it was the weight. I trained down to 198, working like hell—and cut my time to 5.15."
He went back to the Canadian league a wiser but no faster man after his 21 months at Fort Knox. This time he tried British Columbia, which also cut him. "When two coaches tell you to seek your life's work elsewhere, you should," he says. But Canada was far from a total loss. On a double date in Montreal, he met a vivacious Alouette cheerleader named Beverlee Donnely. "Beverlee was the other guy's date, actually, a guy on our team," says Schnellenberger.
From Beverlee's point of view, however, there was no contest between the two men. "I loved Howard then almost as much as I love him now," she says. "He'd call me long distance, in that deep, low voice he has when he's serious, and I couldn't understand a word, so I just said yes to everything." They were married in Montreal in 1958.
Schnellenberger's coaching stops—as an assistant under Collier at Kentucky, under Bryant at Alabama, under George Allen with the Los Angeles Rams and under Shula with the Dolphins—were punctuated by family additions: Stuart, now a senior and second-team center for the Hurricanes; Steve, a Miami junior; and Timmy, a varsity wrestler at Miami's Columbus High. Steve is the family's rallying point. In fighting cancer and related illnesses since he was two, he has "shown more courage than anybody I ever knew," says Beverlee.
A man couldn't ask for a better résumé than Schnellenberger's. His demeanor reflects his pedigree: dry ice on the sidelines. Schnellenberger says he has no reason to be anything else considering all the big games he has been through. Alabama won two national championships (1964, '65) while he ran Bryant's offense. Schnellenberger also accompanied Allen to the NFL playoffs and Shula to two Super Bowls. "A lot of big games," he says.
But the Schnellenberger style is as much a derivative of what he discarded from the giants he worked for as of what he learned from them. Allen, for example, held coaches' meetings "until one or two o'clock in the morning." Schnellenberger lets his coaches get some sleep. Collier was obsessed with details, spending hours "just practicing taking the snap from center." Schnellenberger is also a stickler for details—"under Coach Schnellenberger you know exactly what you're supposed to do and when you're supposed to do it," says his whiz-kid quarterback, Bernie Kosar—but he's not that obsessed. "If a guy is getting the job done," says Schnellenberger, "don't harass him with 'preferred techniques.' It wastes time."
One afternoon, Karl Schmitt, Miami's assistant sports information director, got a call from Schnellenberger to "go 'measure the sun' at Florida Field in Gainesville. First at one o'clock, then two, and so on." Schmitt says he was trying to figure out how to go about it, when he heard Schnellenberger guffawing on the other end of the line. "What it was, George Allen had made him do that once before an NFL playoff game," says Schmitt. "The Rams lost. If they'd won, Howard would have probably made me do it, too. He's superstitious that way."
Schnellenberger doesn't call that superstition; he calls it "not taking any chances." The same goes for the Friday morning bagels he insists on. And his shoes. Schnellenberger bought "the only pair of Italian shoes ever sold in Tuscaloosa, Alabama" and wore them religiously while the Crimson Tide and the Dolphins kept beating everybody. When the shoes finally fell apart after the Dolphins' 17-0 season in 1972, Beverlee had them bronzed. After Howard took the Miami job she bought him the $300 pair of lizard-skin boots he now wears every game day. He says they get so stiff from disuse during the off-season that he has to smear his socks with Vaseline just to get them on in the fall.
Schnellenberger also wears a sports jacket and tie on the sideline, but no other coat—regardless of how chilling the rain or snow. And he leaves the jacket on, no matter how oppressive the heat. Schnellenberger says he started wearing the coat and tie against Penn State two years ago "because this is a profession, not a job. I think it gives me a better image. Also, we won."
In coaching style, Schnellenberger most closely identifies with Bryant. He succeeds where so many other Bryant imitators fail because he fathomed the mostly hidden qualities of the man. "First of all, Bryant knew you won with players, not assistant coaches," says Schnellenberger. "The game should be tailored to what the talent can do, not to what an assistant wants it to do. With Pat Trammell at quarterback [at Alabama], we kept everything tight and ran the ball. Pat was more the halfback type. With Namath, we spread it out and threw."
However, the most useful thing Schnellenberger learned at Alabama was that Bryant "coached people, not football." For all his forbidding aura, Bryant "cared." Fitzpatrick says that "even when he disciplines you, you know Schnellenberger cares. He suspended our quarterback for a game last year for breaking a rule, and not one player objected, not even the quarterback." When Roy Hamlin, Schnellenberger's promotions director, went down with a heart attack in Fort Meyers two years ago, the first face he saw when he came out of surgery was Schnellenberger's. "Just wanted to make sure you were O.K.," he told Hamlin and then drove back to Miami—150 miles away.
In Shula, Schnellenberger found "the perfect pro coach," a man who "studied for the job" and plotted it like a field-grade officer leading troops. "Shula understands the thinking of his players," says Schnellenberger. "And he's consistent with them. He doesn't fluctuate." What bothers Schnellenberger about coaching in the pros is that pro coaches "tend to be mechanics."
Schnellenberger tried being chief mechanic for a season and three games in Baltimore. His first year, 1973, the Colts were 4-10, and the next season they opened with two defeats. While losing for the third time, Schnellenberger told his second-year quarterback, Bert Jones, to warm up to replace starter Marty Domres. Owner Bob Irsay, standing nearby, came up shortly afterward and said, "I want you to put Jones in."
"The players heard him," says Schnellenberger. "[Middle Linebacker] Mike Curtis was standing right there. I said, 'Mr. Irsay, I'd planned to do that, but since you ordered it, I can't.' I'd have lost my credibility, with that and every other team I'd ever coach. In the locker room, he told me, 'I'm putting you on the shelf.' I said, 'What's "on the shelf" mean?' He said, 'I'm putting you on the shelf.' The next day [General Manager] Joe Thomas called to tell me what it meant."
Schnellenberger was back assisting Shula when Lou Saban quit the University of Miami job in January 1979. A Miami newspaperman, Henry Seiden, suggested that Schnellenberger apply. "At first I said no," he says, "but the more I looked into it, the better I liked it. Lou had recruited well. Why couldn't you get players to come to Miami? The only subtropical college in the country. An outstanding curriculum. An attractive schedule. Miami had won before, in the '50s and '60s. The high schools in the area turned out more good little people than anybody, meaning at the skilled positions. I'd lived in Miami for 10 years because I'd wanted to. Beverlee had a career in real estate and, like me, she loves Miami."
So at 44, "an old man to start again," Schnellenberger landed the Miami job. He found the program hung over with failure and burdened with a massive inferiority complex. Losing seasons after the George Mira-Ted Hendricks eras had opened the door for the Dolphins to siphon off fan support. Intimidated coaches came and went like traveling salesmen—six in 10 years—and left a patchwork program rife with mistaken ways of doing things. The sins weren't grave but a collection of misdemeanors that went back years and resulted in Miami's being put on NCAA probation in 1981.
To turn the image around quickly, Schnellenberger changed his own. An essentially private person, he became a flamboyantly public figure. He started a Long Name Club, with him as president. He allowed the campus snack bar to market a Schnellen Burger. Not only did Hamlin make Schnellenberger's weekly television show a money-winner, but he also produced another Schnellenberger program and beamed it around the country by satellite.
Mainly, though, Schnellenberger promoted his team. "Creating tradition," he called it. After sweeping Florida, Florida State and Florida A&M in 1980, he declared a "state championship" for the Hurricanes and had a flag made to celebrate it. This year he promoted the Notre Dame game so well that CBS gave Greater Miami 5½ prime-time minutes of unadulterated ballyhoo in the form of a halftime show celebrating the town.
His first year and a half on the job, Schnellenberger averaged 2½ talks a day. His slightly breathless uneasiness as a public speaker turned out to be a plus, and audiences warmed to him. He visited high schools all over the State of Miami and held clinics. He talked to Chambers of Commerce, Rotary clubs, alumni groups "wherever two or three were gathered."
Recently, Schnellenberger took down the Colts' and Dolphins' pictures he had on the wall behind his desk—right above the bronzed Italian shoes—and put up an 84-inch mounted sailfish. "This is Miami," he said of the fish. Schnellenberger is big on visual aids. The biggest is an architect's rendering of a 40,000-seat campus stadium, which he hauls out at the drop of a donor's name. He says he "wants to leave something to posterity at Miami," and he would like it to be that stadium. Foote tempers Schnellenberger's enthusiasm by insisting that the $14 million needed to fund the stadium come entirely from outside donations.
That Foote is receptive at all is a testimony to Schnellenberger's amazing influence. No great believer in big-time athletics, Foote came to Miami three years ago from Washington University in St. Louis. He stepped right into the furor over the NCAA probation. Foote now calls the Schnellenberger program a "showcase" in which "athletes are students" and the men in it are men of "honor and integrity." He calls Schnellenberger "a teacher in the total sense of the word," and says he is "thrilled" by what has happened this year. He sees it as "academics and athletics building on each other's strengths." He calls it "healthy."
Yes, but is it healthy for Miami to play Nebraska? The other afternoon in his office, Schnellenberger was saying how this Miami team "didn't figure." Kosar, after all, is only a redshirt freshman. But he wound up completing 201 of 327 (61.5%) passes for 2,329 yards. And Tight End Glenn Dennison caught more passes (54) than any other Miami receiver ever had. And Wide Receiver Eddie Brown reminds Schnellenberger "more of Paul Warfield every day." And the Miami offense averaged 25.6 points a game.
"But I'll never forget what Adolph Rupp once told me at Kentucky," said Schnellenberger. "He said, 'Son, you may have guys who can hit the basket 50 percent of the time, but there'll be days when they only hit 30 percent. When that happens, you better be able to play defense." Schnellenberger's Hurricanes play defense. It's a swarming, clinging, brazen kind of defense whose success belies its size (smallish) and speed (average). Led by Fitzpatrick and Linebacker Jay Brophy, Miami ranked fourth in the country in fewest yards yielded per game (259.4) and third in scoring defense (9.6 points a game). It allowed a total of 10 points in the fourth quarter all year. No opponent had a run or pass play that went for more than 28 yards.
Nebraska? "We'll assault 'em on defense." said Schnellenberger. "Try to gang [Mike] Rozier whenever he has the ball." Offensively, "we'll make them play the entire field. Stretch out their defense and see how much they can cover." In either case, he said, "we'll take chances. It will not be a close game."
Well, then, can Miami win?
"I always think we'll win," said Schnellenberger. He got up and came around his desk, past a picture of an oak tree in autumn with the inscription TO BELIEVE IS TO BE STRONG, and handed his visitor a bookmark that had been a sideline pass for this season's Notre Dame game. It said MIAMI 20, NOTRE DAME 0 and had his signature below the score. He puffed on his pipe as he headed for the door.
"I just talked with my man at the weather bureau," he said. "There's six feet [actually nine inches] of snow in Lincoln. Nebraska won't get outside to practice for a week. Too bad." The corners of his mustache lifted, and he left a trail of smoke as he went out the door.