BOCA RATON — Howard Schnellenberger played for Bear Bryant, led Miami to its first national title and built a program from scratch at Florida Atlantic.
That's enough to satisfy him.
Schnellenberger, 77, will retire from coaching football after this season at FAU, his last stop on a journey that began 52 years ago.
"It is hard for a coach to even fathom this kind of a thing," Schnellenberger, who will be a fundraiser for FAU and help find his replacement, said Thursday. "But … it seems to be a great idea."
His latest accomplishment comes Oct. 15, when FAU opens a $70 million, 30,000-seat, on-campus stadium that would not have been built if not for his constant pushing.
"The House That Howard Built is the right acronym for that stadium," FAU president Mary Jane Saunders said.
Said athletic director Craig Angelos: "The vision he is able to create and eventually bring to reality is something that is unmatched. Step by step, things start falling into place. And pretty soon, believers get on board."
Schnellenberger played at Kentucky for Bryant then began his coaching career in 1959 as an assistant at Kentucky. He moved to Alabama, where he helped lure Joe Namath, then jumped to the NFL with the Rams in 1966. He was on Don Shula's staff for the Dolphins' perfect season in 1972 then became coach of the Colts. He returned to the Dolphins as an assistant in 1975 and got the job leading the Hurricanes in 1979.
There, he found a program that had gone 36-60 under five coaches since 1970. But he told people he believed the Hurricanes would win a national title within five years. He delivered.
Schnellenberger went 41-16 at Miami, his last game a 31-30 win over Nebraska on Jan. 1, 1984, for the national title. That started a run of five titles in 19 seasons
"He was a fierce, smart and great football coach," said Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who was part of all five national title teams as a player or assistant. "I don't know if this program would have ever gotten off the map like it did without Howard's leadership."
Schnellenberger left Miami after the first title for an offer with the USFL, a deal that fell apart before he coached a game. He returned to college at Louisville in 1985 and went 54-56-2 over 10 seasons there and 5-5-1 in one season at Oklahoma.
In 1998, he came to start FAU's program. The Owls began play in 2001 and won bowl games in 2007 (along with the Sun Belt title) and 2008.
In 26 college seasons, Schnellenberger is 157-140-3, including 6-0 in bowl games.
Said Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher: "Football lost a great man."