Howard Schnellenberger dies at 87

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MIAMI — Howard Schnellenberger was a pipe smoker with a push-broom mustache and gruff baritone, and he paired his grandiloquent manner with grandiose visions for football at Miami, Louisville and Florida Atlantic that caused snickers.

At all three schools, Schnellenberger disproved doubters. He revived the sport at Miami and Louisville and started the program at Florida Atlantic during a coaching career that spanned a half century.

Schnellenberger died Saturday at 87 in Boca Raton, Florida. FAU announced his death and said he recently had been in a care center.

Schnellenberger had a career record below .500, but when it came to building, he was a winner. His legacy includes on-campus stadiums at Louisville and Florida Atlantic.

He led the Miami Hurricanes to the first of their five national championships in 1983, and coached Louisville to a Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama to cap the 1990 season. He then founded the program at Florida Atlantic and retired as coach after 11 seasons highlighted by back-to-back bowl victories.

Everywhere Schnellenberger coached, he envisioned a winning team as a unifying force, the way it was with the ’83 Hurricanes.

“I think it all goes back to the day they had a parade in Miami for the national championship team,” he once said. “I saw the people on the sidelines – black families, Cuban families, Hispanics and Anglo families – all there, 100,000 strong, celebrating their ball team and community. That football team was able to do something the federal government, city and county tried to do and couldn’t: bring the community together.”

Schnellenberger’s career bowl record was 6-0, and he experienced perfection in the NFL, too. He was the offensive coordinator under Don Shula for the Miami Dolphins in 1972, when they won the Super Bowl to finish 17-0 for the NFL’s only undefeated, untied season.

He would wear a championship ring on each hand, one for the Dolphins and the other for the ’83 Hurricanes. That University of Miami team finished No. 1 thanks to a 31-30 upset victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, a game still considered among the greatest in college football history.

“The thing I remember most about that game was the way South Florida rallied behind our team,” Schnellenberger said a decade later. “In the Orange Bowl that night was a charge of electricity I had never felt there. The hair on the back of my neck stood up because of the energy from the crowd.”

That was the peripatetic Schnellenberger’s final game with the Hurricanes. He left to coach Miami’s franchise in the United States Football League, but the team quickly folded before playing a game.

“I don’t regret the decision I made,” he said. “I have the full realization it was kind of dumb, but I’ve made a lot of dumb decisions in my personal life.”

Restlessness contributed to Schnellenberger’s so-so career record: 158-151-3 in 27 years in college, and 4-13 with the NFL Baltimore Colts in 1973-74, for 162-164-3 overall.

Schnellenberger was born March 16, 1934, in Saint Meinrad, Indiana, and played for “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier at Kentucky. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Kentucky in 1959. As an assistant for Bryant in 1961-65, he recruited Joe Namath and helped Alabama win three national titles.

At Miami, Schnellenberger took over in 1979 amid debate about whether the moribund program should fold. Attendance began to improve when the Hurricanes went 9-3 and won the Peach Bowl in his second season.

Thus began more than a decade of dominance as the Hurricanes quickly became a feeder school for the NFL. Schnellenberger’s quarterbacks included Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar, who went on to star in the pros, and Mark Richt, who later became the Hurricanes’ coach.

“He was an offensive genius, but also a man of integrity,” Richt tweeted Saturday.

Schnellenberger undertook another rebuilding project when he went to Louisville in 1985, inheriting a program that had endured six consecutive losing seasons. He said the Cardinals would return to the Top 25, and mapped out plans for a new stadium, conference membership and renewal of the series with Kentucky – all of which happened.

“He was one of the giants in college football,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said in a statement, “and his impact on the sport in the state of Kentucky is immeasurable.”

In 1990 the Cardinals went 10-1-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl, and they won the Liberty Bowl three seasons later. But in 1995 Schnellenberger left to coach Oklahoma, and the move was a disaster.

Besieged by rumors regarding his drinking and treatment of players, he bitterly resigned under pressure after going 5-5-1 in his lone season there. When asked if the experience at Oklahoma soured him on football, Schnellenberger replied: “It soured me on Oklahoma only.”

He returned to South Florida and worked as a municipal bond broker until he was hired by Florida Atlantic to build a program from scratch. He hired himself as coach, and the Owls played their first game in 2001.

“This is the most important thing I’ve ever undertaken,” he said. “We’re on a collision course with a national championship, and time is the only variable.”

It hasn’t happened yet, but Schnellenberger led the Owls to two bowl wins and oversaw the opening of their stadium in 2011. He retired following that season.

Survivors include Beverlee, his wife of 61 years. A private memorial Mass will be held.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.