Legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger, who launched the football program at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and led the University of Miami to a national championship, is the first-ever recipient of the Palm Beach County Football Legends Award presented by SunTrust.
“We are beyond excited to honor Coach Howard Schnellenberger with the first-ever Palm Beach County Football Legends Award presented by SunTrust,” said Boca Raton Bowl Executive Director Doug Mosley. “It means so much to everyone involved at the Boca Raton Bowl to be able to honor the man who is responsible for setting in motion the state-of-the-art facility that will host our inaugural game.”
The Palm Beach County Football Legends Award presented by SunTrust, created by the Boca Raton Bowl, is awarded to a current or former Palm Beach County resident who has made a direct contribution within Palm Beach County and a significant achievement and/or contribution to the sport of football. Schnellenberger was selected as the recipient of the award by a selection committee, chaired by Palm Beach County Sports Commission Executive Director George Linley.
“I am extremely proud as this is a great honor to be selected as the first recipient of the Palm Beach County Football Legends Award presented by SunTrust,” said Schnellenberger. “This is very special to me as we have worked very hard to bring football to the Boca Raton area and are excited to see the continued growth of this sport in Palm Beach County including ESPN bringing in the Boca Raton Bowl.”
Schnellenberger began his historic career as a player at the University of Kentucky under Paul “Bear” Bryant. Upon graduating, Schnellenberger became an assistant to his former coaches, Blanton Collier, at his alma mater Kentucky, and then for Bryant at Alabama.
He then transitioned to coaching in the National Football League (NFL). Schnellenberger served under George Allen at the Rams and Don Shula at the Dolphins, where he was part of the undefeated 1972 Super Bowl championship team. In 1973 he ascended to the ranks of head coach for the first time in his career, coaching the Baltimore Colts. Schnellenberger then went on to serve as an Assistant Coach again for the Miami Dolphins from 1975-79 before returning to the world of collegiate football.
From 1979-84 Schnellenberger held the position of head coach at the University of Miami, transforming the team into a national powerhouse. After inheriting a nearly extinct team, in four years’ time, Schnellenberger’s Hurricanes went on to attend and win the 1984 Orange Bowl National Championship, regarded as one of the greatest college football games ever played. In his five seasons as head coach, Schnellenberger’s Hurricanes lost only two home games.
After leaving Miami, Schnellenberger returned to his hometown and assumed the role of head coach at the University of Louisville, a position he held from 1985-94. During his tenure, his Cardinals finished their marquee season 10-1-1 with a victory over Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl. Schnellenberger’s accomplishments with the Louisville Cardinals generated the initial support for the now 42,000 seat Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. He spent one year as the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners before embarking on one of his most well-known feats, starting the FAU football team.
In one year’s time, Schnellenberger was approached about beginning the team, founded the team and began recruiting the first-ever Owls football team. Schnellenberger held the team’s first practice on Aug. 19, 2000 and coached the players in their first game on Sept. 1, 2001. In the FAU Owl’s second ever game, Schnellenberger coached the team to its first ever upset against No. 22 Bethune Cookman. After a rocky 2002 campaign, Schnellenberger’s Owls began the 2003 season defeating Middle Tennessee, making FAU the fastest start up program to capture a Division 1-A win. Schnellenberger went on to lead his team that season to 10 consecutive wins and a trip to a National Championship Semifinal, which was hosted by FAU and broadcast on national television.
At the conclusion of the season Schnellenberger was awarded Sports Network South Coach of the Year honors and his Owls accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference.
In his team’s first season as a member of Division 1-A play, Schnellenberger coached the Owls to a 9-3 season that began when the Owls dealt Hawaii its only home loss of the season. Three seasons later, in 2007, Schnellenberger led his Owls to their first ever conference title, and earned his first-ever conference award, 2007 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year. That season Schnellenberger’s Owls became the fastest program to earn a bowl invite, defeating Memphis 44-27 in the New Orleans Bowl.
In 2008, Schnellenberger led the Owls to more program firsts and notable achievements. That season the FAU Owls were the only Florida team to win back-to-back bowls, defeating Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl, and the first Sun Belt Conference team to win back-to-back bowls.
Schnellenberger saw his first Owl player drafted to the NFL at the conclusion of the 2009 season when quarterback Rusty Smith was selected by the Tennessee Titans. Schnellenberger would go on to have his players drafted in the next two consecutive drafts.
In 2011, Schnellenberger coached his final season in the newly constructed FAU Stadium, an effort he championed. This season, the field was named Howard Schnellenberger Field in honor of the legendary coach and everything he accomplished for the university.
Schnellenberger will receive the Palm Beach County Football Legends Award presented by SunTrust on Dec. 22 at the Boca Raton Bowl Kickoff Luncheon. Schnellenberger will also be participating in Boca Raton’s 44th Annual Holiday Street Parade on Dec.3 from 7:30-9 p.m. for the Boca Raton Bowl.