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 r�sum� 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."