December 9th, 2015

Reed pleads case: Put Schnellenberger in HOF

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Reed pleads case: Put Schnellenberger in HOF
Howard Schnellenberger’s 158-151-3 career record is keeping him out of the College Football Hall of Fame / photo and cover photo from Howard Schnellenberger’s Facebook page

Honorable jurors of the high court of public opinion, I come before you today to plead the case of Howard Schnellenberger, an iconic football coach of who is arbitrarily, capriciously and unjustly being kept out of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The case is as simple and direct as a fullback smash up the middle. The National Football Foundation, which oversees the College Football Hall of Fame selection process, has a rule that in order to be eligible for induction, a head coach must have won 60 percent of his games. Mr. Schnellenberger had a 158-151-3 during 26 seasons at the University of Miami, Louisville and Florida Atlantic.

But I am here to argue that there are extenuating circumstances in Mr. Schnellenberger’s case that should lead the College Football Hall of Fame to either make an exception in Mr. Schnellenberger’s case or, even better, abandon the rule that is prejudicial to coaches who specialize in reviving moribund programs or even building them from scratch.

What’s odd is that the College Football Hall of Fame does not have percentage requirements for other categories. Quarterbacks, for example, are not required to have a certain winning or pass-completion percentage to be eligible. The only standard is their individual accomplishments and their impact on the game. I ask you, why is it not the same for coaches?

I invite you to visit the Internet to check out Mr. Schnellenberger’s vast contributions to college football. But to make it easier for you, please allow me to give you a few highlights.

*He played at the University of Kentucky under Paul “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier. As a senior in 1955, he was named a first-team All-American end by the Associated Press.

*Joining Bryant’s staff at Alabama in 1961, he was a valued assistant coach for the Crimson Tide’s 1961, ’64 and ’65 national champions.

*At Miami, where the program was on life support when he took the job in 1978, Mr. Schnellenberger needed only four years to take the Hurricanes to the national championship. His team’s 31-30 victory over unbeaten, top-ranked Nebraska in the 1983 Orange Bowl is acknowledged as one of the greatest games ever played.

*As Louisville’s head coach from 1985 through 1994, Mr. Schnellenberger performed another miracle. His sixth team had a 10-1-1 season that concluded with a stunning 34-7 upset of Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, only the third time the Cardinals had ever appeared in a bowl game.

*After 10 years in Louisville, Mr. Schnellenberger abruptly left for Oklahoma, the only time he ever coached at an established football powerhouse. But it turned out to be a bad fit for both the coach and the program, so Mr. Schnellenberger resigned after a 5-5-1 season to enter private business.

Because our topic here is the College Football Hall of Fame, I will not dwell on Mr. Schnellenberger’s accomplishments in the NFL. However, it would be unfair to his football legacy to not mention that he was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins teams that won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1971 and ’72. The latter team was the last in the NFL to go unbeaten.

Although he enjoyed selling stocks and bonds, Mr. Schnellenberger had one more building job left in him. This time it was at Florida Atlantic, where he literally built the program from scratch. He was hired in 1998 and coached the school’s first game in 2001. Due to his tireless efforts, FAU moved from NCAA Division I-AA to Division I-A in 2004 as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

At the end of the 2007 season, FAU accepted a bid to the New Orleans Bowl and defeated Memphis 44-27. That gave Mr. Schnellenberger a 6-0 career record in bowl games. It also made FAU the youngest Division I member to win a bowl.

Mr. Schnellenberger retired after the 2011 season and 10 seasons at FAU. His record at FAU was 58-74, remarkable under the circumstances. But in a cruel twist of fate, it also made him ineligible for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame because it hurt his career winning percentage.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you feel as outraged as I do. Mr. Schnellenberger’s work at Miami, Louisville and FAU indicates he is a coach of superior ability. A newspaper in Orlando ranked him in the Top 10 of the sport’s all-time great coaches. He made new fans for football at places where there was little or no interest prior to his arrival.

If the jury wishes, I can produce testimony to Mr. Schnellenberger’s impact on the college game from such unimpeachable witnesses as Mr. Joe Namath, Mr. Don Shula, Mr. Bob Griese, Mr. Jim Kelly, Mr. Bernie Kosar, Mr. Roman Oben and many more. Yet the College Football Hall of Fame consistently ignores their pleas and annually inducts coaches who meet the 60 percent winning percentage criterion but who have never come close to matching Mr. Schnellenberger’s achievements and place in the game’s history.

Honored jurors, I have asked to take my case to the College Football Hall of Fame’s selection committee. However, the committee’s membership is kept secret by the National Football Foundation. Beyond that, my entreaties to Mr. Steve Hatchell, the NFF’s executive director, have fallen on deaf ears.

If this jury returns the verdict I think it will, I will take that and use social media to spread the word until Mr. Schnellenberger’s case can no longer be ignored. Mr. Schnellenberger is 81 years old, and he deserves to receive this special recognition while he can still enjoy it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am not asking for anything that Mr. Schnellenberger hasn’t earned. The facts are clear. I ask you to do the right and just thing. I thank you and rest my case.

 

 

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