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Nebraska May Be In For Double Trouble
John Underwood
December 26, 1983
Bound for the Orange Bowl, Miami has been winning hand over fist for Coach Howard Schnellenberger
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December 26, 1983

Nebraska May Be In For Double Trouble

Bound for the Orange Bowl, Miami has been winning hand over fist for Coach Howard Schnellenberger

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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 5� 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 2� 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.

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