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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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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.

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."

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