Little Rock Touchdown Club members were greeted at the door Tuesday by the third guest of the season, Coach Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger, who had only ever been to Arkansas to recruit, was given a warm welcome in Little Rock. After a unique double introduction, the legendary coach received a standing ovation as he took to the podium. Coach Schnellenberger went on to tell of his many ventures through the football world. Whether as a player at Kentucky under Arkansas native Paul "Bear" Bryant, or later on as an offensive coordinator at Alabama under Bryant, or developing football powers from the gound up at Louisville and Miami, or coaching under Don Shula on the staff of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.
"They're both icons...geniuses." Schnellenberger explained when asked to compare Bryant and Shula. "People think [Bryant] was a tough, ornery type of guy, he was not." said Schnellenberger of his former coach. "For every time he'd grab [players] by the face mask...he'd find a reason to hug them around the neck or praise them." he recalled, and after practically gushing with respect for Bryant, he added, "He was special."Schnellenberger then explained that Bryant and Shula were very similar, but Shula was "tempered to the age of the men he was working with." adding that he was more analytical and detailed. Schnellenberger will reunite with Shula and more players and coaches from the undefeated Dolphins team in October to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the NFL's only perfect season.
Coach Schnellenberger's biggest success, however, came as a headcoach. Schnellenberger is responsible for rescuing Louisville and Miami from eternal mediocrity. Before accepting the job at Miami he learned that the athletic department had decided to drop the football program to division 1-AA.
"I'd better do something very dramatic," he recalled "I better go out and tell the world we're gonna win a National Championship in 5 years!" With his "State of South Florida" plan, Schnellenberger recruited the local area heavily and by his third year, the team had finished in the Top 25 twice. In 1983 he coached the Canes to a National Championship after an Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska.
Schnellenberger later coached at Louisville, where his success lead to the erection of a new stadium. Using almost the same method as he did in Miami, Schnellenberger didn't promise a National Title, but that the program was (and still is) "on a collision course with a championship." Schnellenberger won two bowl games at Louisville, including an impressive 34-7 beating of Alabama that capped off a 10-1-1 season that resulted in an 11th place final ranking, the program's best finish at the time.
"To do something special, you got to have a dream, you have to believe in that dream, you've got to tell somebody and then yell it from the mountain tops...If you tell somebody it becomes a goal. Then you have a chance." Schnellenberger said of winning a National Championship. He is now a university ambassador at Florida Atlantic University, where in 2008 he established the football team, and has since had a stadium built on campus. Schnellenberger hopes to be invited to join the Big East conference soon.
From a man who built football teams, we move next week to a man who helped the Razorbacks destroy some. Former Hogs quarterback Matt Jones will be speaking at next week's club meeting, which will be held at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock. Lunch is $15.00 for members, $25.00 for non-members, but a one time fee of $50.00 will earn you annual membership.