When Howard Schnellenberger took over at the University of Miami in 1979, he was already an established coach.
He won three national titles as an Alabama assistant under Bear Bryant, was the offensive coordinator of the 1972 Dolphins — still the NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl champion — and spent two years leading the Baltimore Colts.
But it was what Mr. Schnellenberger did with the Hurricanes that made him a legend and one of the most important figures in Florida college football history.
Mr. Schnellenberger became the patriarch of Miami’s dynasty, ushered in the state’s glory age as its first national champion and, years later, built Florida Atlantic from the ground up to a conference champion.
Mr. Schnellenberger died Saturday. He was 87.
“Without him,” the Hurricanes said, “there is no Miami Football.”
Before Mr. Schnellenberger took over from Lou Saban, Miami was in shambles. The Hurricanes had only one ranked finish in the previous two decades and won just 14 games in the four years before his arrival. The program’s long-term future was in question.
By his second season, the ‘Canes were 9-3 and Peach Bowl champions.
Miami’s Schnellenberger-led rise culminated in 1983. After opening the season with a 28-3 loss to Florida, the ‘Canes won their final 11 games. Miami’s 31-30 triumph over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl was a turning point not only for the program but for the state as a whole.
That classic — regarded as the best college football game in Florida history — gave The U the state’s first national championship. The ‘Canes, and the rest of the state, didn’t stop. From 1983-2013, Florida’s teams earned 11 national titles.
“The loss of Coach Schnellenberger is immeasurable in so many ways for the University of Miami family,” athletic director Blake James said. “He helped our University grow during a critical period of time and established a foundation for future success, on the football field and off. He will be remembered as so much more than a coach.
“He will forever be a Hurricane.”
After going 41-16 at Miami, Mr. Schnellenberger left for a decade at Louisville and a year at Oklahoma. Then he started building another south Florida program.
In 1998, he was asked to consider starting a program at Florida Atlantic. He took on the challenge (and eventually named himself its head coach). His Owls rose from Division I-AA startup to national semifinalist and jumped to I-A in 2005. Mr. Schnellenberger led FAU to the Sun Belt Conference title in 2007.
He retired after the 2011 season, which included the opening of the Owls’ on-campus stadium. Three years later, FAU named its playing surface Howard Schnellenberger Field.
“What an amazing legacy of inspirational leadership!” Owls athletic director Brian White said. “We are all mourning today.”
In 27 years as a college head coach, Mr. Schnellenberger finished 158-151-3. He also won all six of his bowl games.
Mr. Schnellenberger is survived by his wife of 61 years, Beverlee, two sons, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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