August 27th, 2013

Billy Reed: Schnellenberger should be inducted into HOF

Block_lcsn_-_website_photo_-_billy_reed

Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Billy Reed: Schnellenberger should be inducted into HOF
Howard in front of the new stadium at Florida Atlantic. The man with him is Bob Hardy, who was his quarterback during his UK days / photo by Billy Reed

It’s a good thing my friend Howard Schnellenberger didn’t invite me to accompany him last week when President Obama honored the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last unbeaten team in NFL history, with a special ceremony at the White House.

I probably would have tried to buttonhole the President to seek his support for Schnellenberger’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, an honor for which he is eminently qualified but ineligible because of the National Football Foundation’s arbitrary, capricious and unfair eligibility standards.

In order to be inducted, a head coach must have won a minimum of 60 percent of his games. With a career record of 158-151-3 at Miami, Louisville, Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic, Schnellenberger doesn’t meet that criterion.

But, my heavens, the man single-handedly revived two programs that were on their deathbeds (Miami and U of L), built one from scratch (Florida Atlantic) and survived an ugly situation at the only traditional power he ever coached (Oklahoma).

Look at it like this: In 2011, the College Football Hall of Fame inducted former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry. In 23 seasons, he did, indeed, win more than 60 percent of his games. Barely. But I dare you to find me a reasonable football person who will argue that DeBerry had a greater impact on football, at all levels, than Schnellenberger.

Consider:

  • -- As an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky from 1951-55, Schnellenberger was an outstanding end for coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier. He was named an All-American as a senior.
  • -- From 1961-65, he was Bryant’s offensive coordinator at Alabama. During that time, the Crimson Tide won three national titles and Schnellenberger worked with a young quarterback named Joe Willie Namath.
  • -- From 1970-72, he was coach Don Shula’s offensive co-coordinator with the Dolphins. The defensive coordinator was Bill Arnsparger of Paris, Ky. All three — Shula, Arnsparger and Schnellenberger — served on Collier’s 1959 staff at UK.
  • -- In 1974 and the first four games of 1975, he served as head coach of the hapless Baltimore Colts but got fired for standing up to meddling owner Carroll Rosenbloom. His signature victory with the Colts was an upset of the Dolphins.
  • -- In 1983, he coached Miami — a program on the brink of extinction when Schnellenberger took it over in 1979 — to the national championship. The Hurricanes were voted the title after stunning seemingly invincible Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, one of the great upsets in college history.
  •  -- From 1984-95, he took the U of L program off life support and made it nationally respectable. His  team stunned the college football world by drilling Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl. During his tenure, Schnellenberger lobbied tirelessly for a new stadium. Several years after he left for Oklahoma, his efforts were rewarded with the opening of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and the end-zone training and office center named in his honor.
  • -- He built the Florida Atlantic program from scratch. By the time he retired, the Owls were playing in a new stadium within sight of the Atlantic Ocean.
  •  -- His career record in bowl games is 6-0.

Last year Schnellenberger was a member of the inaugural class for the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame, and this year that event’s sponsor, the Catholic Sports Network, is beginning a new award in his honor.

Named the Howard Schnellenberger Family Award, and sponsored by the Bill Collins Automotive Group, it will go to a Catholic family that has made a significant contribution to the sports world. The first award will go to the Brohm family and be presented at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Nov. 14 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. 

But as appreciative as Schnellenberger is of those honors, nothing would please him more than making the College Football Hall of Fame.

For years, the College Football Hall of Fame made its home at Kings Island, just north of Cincinnati. It moved to South Bend in the 1990s and never generated much enthusiasm or tourism. So now it’s located in Atlanta, which will play host to the induction ceremony for the first time in September.

Here are the coaches who will be inducted this year:

  • -- Frank Cignetti (West Virginia, Indiana (Pa.))
  • -- James “Boots” Donnelly (Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State)
  • -- Jess Dow (Southern Connecticut State)
  • -- Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee)
  • -- Jimmy Johnson (Oklahoma State, Miami (Fla.))
  • -- R.C. Slocum (Texas A&M)

Anybody see a name on there more qualified than Schnellenberger? I thought so.  Heck, Johnson replaced Schnellenberger at Miami and built his reputation on the foundation laid by Howard.

Had I been able to make my case to President Obama, a reasonable man, I’m sure I could have won him over. Then again, this was a time to celebrate the ’72 Dolphins and their perfection, so my lobbying efforts would have been out of place.

“It was great,” Schnellenberger boomed over the phone in his familiar gravelly voice. “Like getting a Christmas present you didn’t expect.”

The coach said he didn’t know what prompted Obama to honor a team that had its glory years during the Nixon administration, although he thinks it might have something to do with the lobbying campaign that Marv Fleming, a tight end on the ’72 team, has conducted for years. 

“It might have been due to that,” he said, “or it might have been that President Obama just needed the unbeaten Dolphins to help him in the popularity polls.” 

The only sour note was that three of the team members — Bob Kuechenberg, Manny Fernandez and Jim Langer — boycotted the event because of their distaste for the President and his policies. That’s a bit ironic when you consider that the reason Nixon didn’t honor the team after the ’72 season was because he was bogged down in the Watergate scandal. 

But the party went on without them. According to Schnellenberger, the players and coaches had a private dinner party the night before the event at the Westin Hotel near the White House. Shula was able to attend even though he needs a motorized scooter to help him get around.

“The next day, we were at the White House from about 10:30 to 3:30,” Schnellenberger said. “We got a tour of the White House and then did a walk-through of the ceremony. After that we went into a room and were arranged in a circle. The President came in and each of us got to shake his hand and pose for a picture. Then we went into another room where some bleachers were set up for a team photo.” 

Schnellenberger noted that about 10 of the team’s coaches and staff members have passed away, and that his old buddy Arnsparger couldn’t make it because of physical infirmities. 

“Bill’s defense — they called it the ‘No Name’ defense — was just so damned strong,” he said. “We lined up in a 3-5 and you could do a lot more stunting with five linebackers. Our offense was geared to that kind of defense. We just tried to keep the ball away from the other team and put at least 17 points or more on the board.”

The offense was built around quarterback Bob Griese, running backs Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick, wideout Paul Warfield and tight end Jim Mandich.

Schnellenberger never will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, because his NFL head coaching career was too brief and unsuccessful. But he should be a no-brainer for the College Hall of Fame.

We need to start a crusade to get Howard inducted. Here’s the contact info for the National Football Foundation: E-mail (news@footballfoundation.com); phone (800-486-1865), website (http://www.footballfoundation.org). The Foundation needs to either change its rules or make an exception.

Let’s get some justice for one of football’s greatest coaches.

 

Recent Articles