Miami And FAU: Two Programs Bound By Architect Howard Schnellenberger

When Miami and FAU square off on Saturday 9/10/16, the game will be a feature product of one of college football’s great program architects: Howard Schnellenberger.

Florida Atlantic is preparing for its first measuring stick game of the season: an in-state battle against Miami on Saturday evening.

The two teams have only met twice in history, and they probably wouldn’t have ever clashed at all if it wasn’t for Howard Schnellenberger, the legendary head coach who built up Miami’s football program after it was almost dropped by the university. After just three seasons in Coral Gables, and in midst of his “State of Miami” plan, the ‘Canes had finished the season in the AP Top 25 twice.

For FAU, playing football would not be possible if not for the influence of the man noted for recruiting Joe Namath to Alabama for the legendary Bear Bryant in 1961. The final act of Schnellenberger’s legendary career put FAU on the map.

In 1998, at the age of 64, Schnellenberger was named the director of football operations at the school, and was given the tough task of building a football program from the ground up—overseeing every bit of minutia that comes with such a large undertaking.

When then-FAU president Anthony Catanese asked him to select the first head coach in program history, Schnellenberger didn’t have to look far and wide: he chose himself.

Over the course of the next two years, Schnellenberger pulled double-duty: operating a program from top to bottom and working through the normal grind of a head football coach.

When it was time for the team’s very first practice in 2000, the Owls had 160 walk-on players and 22 that were given scholarships. The very first game in FAU history occurred on September 1, 2001, when the team fell to Slippery Rock, 40-7. However, 13 projected starters were not certified in time by the administration, so they could not take the field.

No one ever said things come easy for a first-time program.

From there, in just their second game, the Owls upset the No. 22 team in FCS (at the time known as I-AA), Bethune-Cookman. FAU would finish its debut season 4-6 before dipping to 2-9 in Year 2.

The breakthrough occurred in the program’s third year. The Owls went 11-3 and advanced to the FCS semifinals. The following season, FAU went 9-3 while it transitioned to FBS (at the time known as I-A) ball. However, the Owls were neither eligible for a bowl game nor the FCS playoffs because of their status as a transitioning team.

In 2005, FAU advanced to become a member of the Sun Belt Conference in FBS. Getting to the top level of the college football chain was the goal for Schnellenberger when he took over the program back in ’98. After two seasons in the Sun Belt and only seven years of being a full-functioning program, FAU won the 2007 league title and earned its first-ever invitation to a bowl game, where the Owls defeated Memphis 44-27 in the New Orleans Bowl. Schnellenberger was named Sun Belt coach of the year, and FAU set the record for being the youngest program to ever receive a bowl invite.

Schellenberger took his squad to a second consecutive bowl game the following year, as the 6-6 Owls took on Central Michigan in the Music City Bowl, where he extended his postseason bowl record to 6-0 with a 24-21 victory.

That was the last time FAU played in the postseason.

Schnellenberger announced his retirement from coaching on August 11, 2011, effective at season’s end. Despite the disastrous tenure that was the Carl Pelini era, the Owls remain a relatively healthy FBS program.

One of Schnellenberger’s main objectives when he ran FAU’s program was ensuring that the school would get an on-campus football stadium. That goal was achieved when ground was broken for FAU Stadium, which currently seats 29,419 fans. On August 20, 2014, the school announced its football field would be named in honor of Howard Schnellenberger.

Charlie Partridge began his third season with the Owls last week with a 38-30 win over Southern Illinois, and is looking to take FAU back to its first bowl game since the Schnellenberger era. Owl fans in Boca Raton experienced heartbreak in close losses on several occasions last year, with the biggest one occurring in The Swamp, when the team was tied with Florida at 14 in the fourth quarter of an eventual 20-14 overtime defeat.

Heartbreaking losses aside, FAU would not exist in its current state had it not been for the dedicated and exhausting work performed by Schnellenberger. And while guided the program through so many of its firsts, there is a giant one that Partridge can achieve on Saturday against Miami.

In its history, FAU has never beaten an AP-ranked team. It just so happens that Miami—the same Hurricanes program that Schnellenberger led to a national championship in 1983, when the ‘Canes beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl—checked in this week at No. 25. Schnellenberger’s implementation of a pro-style, pass-oriented attack was cutting-edge in the college game during his tenure at Miami. Unfortunately for today’s Owls team, offense hasn’t exactly been a strong point. Sophomore Jason Driskel had a productive first game under new coordinator Travis Trickett, who was brought in from Samford, where he excelled as OC. But FAU is coming off of a season in which it averaged just 22.5 points per game. So the offense will need to come together fast in order to have a chance to upset the ‘Canes.

The world of college football is much different than the one the living legend Schnellenberger enjoyed in his heyday. For instance, a team like FAU, or any other Group of Five program, could not have enjoyed such increased media exposure as it can today’s day and age.The world of college football is much different than the one the living legend Schnellenberger enjoyed in his heyday. For instance, a team like FAU, or any other Group of Five program, could not have enjoyed such increased media exposure as it can today’s day and age.

A win over the ‘Canes in a game that was put together as a celebration for what Schnellenberger had done for both programs would insert FAU into the national conversation. Even if the Owls fall short in their upset bid, Schnellenberger had a vision of building another program roughly a quarter-century after he had resurrected the Hurricanes. No matter what the scoreboard says when the clock strikes :00, his mark will endure for both programs.