Howard Schnellenberger eludes the HOF despite legendary resume

Purdue head football coach (and former UofL quarterback) Jeff Brohm chats with former UofL head football coach Howard Schnellenberger in the VIP room of the Louisville Sports Commission's 2019 Paul Hornung Award Banquet at the Galt House Hotel on Thursday, March 7, 2019.0307hornungawdsbqut008 Drl
Purdue head football coach (and former UofL quarterback) Jeff Brohm chats with former UofL head football coach Howard Schnellenberger in the VIP room of the Louisville Sports Commission's 2019 Paul Hornung Award Banquet at the Galt House Hotel on Thursday, March 7, 2019.0307hornungawdsbqut008 Drl /

On January 9, 2023, the National Football Foundation announced the list of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023, which also includes media personalities and coaches.

With this announcement, it causes fans to immediately speculate on future names who could be inducted into the shrine of immortality. But it also generates a conversation surrounding those who deserve to be cloaked in praise for their achievements.

One of those people that deserves a nod from the National Football Foundation is former Louisville Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who left an imprint on college football in a way that few have.

Personal Life 

Howard Schnellenberger was born in the small, quaint town of Saint Meinrad, Indiana. The 408th largest city in Indiana with a population of only 652 people, Saint Meinrad is most famous for the Saint Meinrad Archabbey, which was founded by Swiss monks in 1854.

With the foundation of this community built upon the work of European immigrants, it makes sense as to why Howard Schnellenberger was born in this rural hamlet. Schnellenberger was born to a German-American family in 1934, but moved to Louisville, Kentucky before his high school years.

He would attend Flaget High School where he would star in football, basketball, and baseball. A three-sport athlete in high school funneled his time and energy into football specifically as he earned himself a football scholarship to the University of Kentucky.

An elite tight end during his time as a Wildcat from 1952-1956, he would move onto to play two seasons in the Canadian Football League before he began his legendary coaching career. The first step in his marathon-esque career began as an assistant to Kentucky’s Head Football Coach Blanton Collier, who served as his head coach while he was a player.

Schnellenberger then moved on to the University of Alabama via his pitstop at Kentucky and would coach under the leadership of the elite Paul “Bear” Bryant. While a member of the Crimson Tide coaching staff, he was responsible for the recruitment of legendary quarterback Joe Namath en route to being a part of three national titles in 1961, 1964, and 1965.

Head Coach at Miami

In 1979, he accepted the Head Football Coach position at the University of Miami. At that time, the Hurricanes football program was on life support and needed a jolt that Howard Schnellenberger was able to supply. He concluded his first season at the helm for the Hurricanes with a 5-6 record, as he began to lay the foundation for generational success to come.

In his second season in South Florida, he attained a 9-1 record, which helped lay the bedrock for the indelible 1983 season that culminated in the first National Championship in Miami’s history. The Hurricanes outlasted the Nebraska Cornhuskers by one single point with a final score of 31-30. Howard Schnellenberger would also end the season receiving the Football Writer’s Association of America Coach of the Year award.

USFL Fiasco

Four months after being crowned the national champions in the college football world, Howard Schnellenberger accepted the Head Coach position and was in position to become part-owner of the United States Football League’s Washington Federals.

The purchase of the Washington Federals was underway after a conversation between Donald Trump and Sherwood Weiser, a millionaire and South Florida hotel developer. Once these conversations materialized there were immediate ideas for Weiser to move the team back to his familiar territory in Miami.

However, two months after these conversations were had, Weiser decided to back out of the purchase because the USFL decided to switch from a spring football schedule to a fall schedule. Weiser was fearful that this purchase would not have a great return on investment because having a fall schedule, his Miami team would be competing for views with the Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami.

Understanding his market audience, he backed out of the purchase, and in doing so left Howard Schnellenberger a free agent in the coaching market.

Head Coach at Louisville

Once it was official that Schnellenberger was on the market, it became a perfect storm of a man known for revitalizing programs was available to come to his hometown team to once again breathe life into another program.

He accepted the position in 1985, and in his introductory press conference, he utters one of the most famous quotes in Louisville history when he uttered these words:

"“We’re on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time…”"

Schnellenberger’s first three seasons at the helm for the Cardinals were below .500 for a composite record of 8-24. But, building a program takes time and commitment from the staff and players, and once the 1988 season dawned, Schnellenberger would lead the Cardinals to an 8-3 record.

Two years later, he took Louisville to the 1990 Fiesta Bowl and came out victorious over Alabama for their first and only win over the Crimson Tide in program history. In 1991, Jeff Brohm took over at the starting quarterback position following the graduation of quarterback Browning Nagle, and would go on to lead Louisville for the next three seasons.

Brohm and Schnellenberger’s best season came in 1993, when Brohm was a senior, as they finished the season with a 9-3 record earning them a bid in the Liberty Bowl against Michigan State.

Schnellenberger’s last season with the Cardinals would be the following season, in 1994, where he finished with a 6-5 record.

Head Coach at Oklahoma

Following the 1994 season, he accepted the Head Football Coach position at the University of Oklahoma. But he was quickly let go after going 5-5-1 in just one season in Norman. According to The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel, Schnellenberger alienated almost everyone while he was there.

Founding Father of Florida Atlantic Football

After his time in the southern United States, he made his way back to the Sunshine State in 1999 with a new task on his hands. He was charged with building a football program at Florida Atlantic University from the ground up, which is a huge undertaking. But if there is anything that excites Howard Schnellenberger, it’s pipes and football.

He would spend the rest of his coaching career in Boca Raton, Florida and would end up retiring in 2011. The Owls would go on to erect an on-campus stadium and brand it under his name. In 2014, Howard Schnellenberger Stadium was made official, along with a statue of the bushy mustached man outside of the stadium.

National Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame Coaching Criteria

The National Football Foundation established a rule in 2018 stating that:

"“A coach becomes eligible three full seasons after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years old. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age. He must have been a head football coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.”"

Howard Schnellenberger achieved over 100 games coached with 312 total games and he achieved over 10 years coached with a total of 27 years. But, he narrowly misses the .600 winning percentage mark with a winning percentange of .511. If it weren’t for his desire to revitalize and build programs, then his winning percentage could have been exponentially higher. But he brought the University of Miami program off life support and built it into “The U” that it is today.

He also established a winning culture at Louisville and helped breathe life into his hometown school and collegiate arch-rival. And to finish it off, he built an entire football program from the ground up.

Schnellenberger is unqualified for the College Hall of Fame because of one small detail in the criteria, but three collegiate programs are relevant now because of him. If that doesn’t qualify him in itself, then there is something wrong with the rule book.

Howard Schnellenberger is synonymous with college football and deserves to be enshrined in immortality. However if he never gets the nod from President Steve Hatchell, he will remain in perpetual fame within the communities of Miami, Louisville, and Boca Raton.