By Brian Biggane
BOYNTON BEACH — Howard Schnellenberger, the last surviving member of the coaching staff of the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season and the architect of the Miami Hurricanes’ 1983 national championship, died March 27 at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. He was 87.
Mr. Schnellenberger, who spent most of the past 20 years residing with wife, Beverlee, in Ocean Ridge and Boynton Beach, revived moribund programs at both Miami and the University of Louisville before capping his career as the Owls football founder and first coach at Florida Atlantic University.
“Even though he never changed, he was always smiling in his heart,” Beverlee said in a statement released by FAU. “We loved all the moves and challenges. I will miss his warm heart, his warm hands and his soft kisses.”
Born on March 16, 1934, in Saint Meinrad, Indiana, Mr. Schnellenberger moved to Louisville with his family at a young age and played football, basketball and baseball at Flaget High School, where he was a teammate of future Green Bay Packers star Paul Hornung and earned a scholarship to Kentucky.
He was an All-American tight end at Kentucky under Blanton Collier, then played two years in the Canadian Football League before beginning his coaching career as an assistant to Collier. He then moved on to work under Bear Bryant at Alabama, where he was responsible for recruiting Joe Namath and was part of three national titles for the school.
Mr. Schnellenberger then took his talents to the NFL, first as an assistant under George Allen with the Los Angeles Rams from 1966-69. He then was hired by Don Shula as offensive coordinator with the Dolphins in 1970. Two years later the Dolphins went 17-0, becoming the only NFL team to ever go undefeated.
He was hired as head coach of the Baltimore Colts in 1973, but after a falling-out with owner Robert Irsay returned to the Dolphins from 1975-78 before taking over the Hurricanes, a program in such dire straits there had been talk of dismantling it just a few years before.
Recruiting talent that had previously headed off to places such as Penn State, Michigan and Notre Dame, Mr. Schnellenberger promised a national title and delivered one in his fifth season.
After a brief fling with the USFL, Mr. Schnellenberger was lured by Gov. John Y. Brown and other civic leaders to Louisville to try to rescue another sad-sack program. By year six he had the Cardinals in the Top 15 in the polls with a 10-1-1 team that beat Alabama in its bowl game.
The only blemish on his coaching career was 1995 at Oklahoma, where his team went 5-5-1 and he and Beverlee were viewed as outsiders before the two sides agreed to part ways.
Mr. Schnellenberger returned to South Florida and was hired by FAU President Anthony Catanese to build the foundation for the football program. After a search he decided to take the coaching job himself to prepare for the team’s 2001 debut season.
FAU defeated Memphis in its first appearance in a bowl game in 2007, becoming the youngest program to play in a bowl. Mr. Schnellenberger stuck around through 2011, then spent his remaining years as an indefatigable ambassador for the program.
Along with Beverlee, Mr. Howard is survived by son Tim and wife, Anyssa; son Stuart and wife, Suzie; grandson Joey and wife, Kristie; grandson Marcus and wife, Rachel; granddaughter Teather and husband, David; and great-grandchildren Tyler, Lacie and Harper Ann.
He was preceded in death by son Stephen, who died in 2008, and a great-grandson, Angel, who died in 2020.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks contributions be made to the Schnellenberger Family Foundation in Delray Beach or the Howard Schnellenberger Endowed Scholarship Fund at FAU.
A celebration of his life will be held at FAU on a date to be announced.