Schnellenberger Back In Bowl As FAU Meets Memphis
Florida Atlantic Owls (7-5) play their first bowl game
Dec. 20, 2007
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Howard Schnellenberger's career in football has spanned generations, touching the lives of numerous successful coaches and players.
There were his days as an assistant coach at Alabama, winning championships under Paul "Bear" Bryant in the 1960s; his stint with the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s, winning Super Bowls under Don Shula; his resurrection of college programs at Miami, where he won a national championship in 1983, and at Louisville; then his one-year stint at Oklahoma in 1995.
Apparently, the 73-year-old coach, the epitome of an old wise man with his distinctive white mustache and white head of hair, hasn't let the game pass him by yet.
He'll be on the sideline Friday night when his Florida Atlantic Owls (7-5) play their first bowl game against Memphis (7-5) in the New Orleans Bowl.
"It's nice to be with a football team that's growing, winning games and qualifying" for the postseason, Schnellenberger said while a Florida Atlantic practice wound down this week. "The bowl game is a result of that. So I guess I'm a happy camper that we've done the right things to get us here. I'll be a doubly happy camper if we can win this game."
For a while, it appeared that Schnellenberger's one season at Oklahoma, when the Sooners went 5-5-1, might be his last as a Division I coach.
He spent a couple years in virtual retirement before Florida Atlantic, a state university in Boca Raton, called with an intriguing offer. They wanted him to build a new football program, starting in what was then known as Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision) and eventually moving up to the I-A, now the Bowl Subdivision, in 2005.
Hired in 1998, he was given a couple years to recruit, with his first team beginning practices in 2000 and playing its first NCAA game in 2001. By 2003, FAU was in the semifinals of the I-AA playoffs.
FAU was 2-9 in its first season in the top division, followed by a 5-7 mark a season ago.
Despite his own background as a turnaround specialist, Schnellenberger said FAU's location in south Florida gave it a particular advantage in creating a competitive program.
"We're blessed that we sit right in the middle of a hotbed of high school football programs that allow us to have the opportunity to satisfy our goal," Schnellenberger said.
Schnellenberger knew he couldn't recruit head-to-head against Miami, Florida or Florida State, but thought he had a chance to keep out-of-state schools from luring away some of the local talent that remained.
Another question was how well a new generation of players would relate to a coach who's old enough to collect social security.
FAU senior defensive back Taheem Acevedo recalled what attracted him to Schnellenberger right away.
"My initial thoughts were that I saw a guy walking around with a championship ring," Acevedo recalled. "Even though it was a new program, some of the coaches had experience in bowls or even Super Bowls, so I was kind of into that."
Now Schnellenberger's won a Sun Belt Conference title, upsetting Troy 38-32 in the last game of the regular season to do it.
And if Schnellenberger looks and acts old school, that doesn't mean his offense is.
Rusty Smith has thrown for 3,352 and 27 TDs. Hi top target, Cortez Gent, caught 61 passes for 1,030 yards and nine scores. FAU used a two-back tandem of Charles Pierre and Willie Rose to gain most of team's 1,523 yards rushing.
This will be FAU's first meeting with Memphis, which beat North Texas in the 2003 New Orleans Bowl and this season was one of the top teams in Conference USA.
Like FAU, Memphis throws the ball frequently. Martin Hankins, who started his college career at Southeastern Louisiana before transferring to the Tigers, passed for 2,939 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. He spread the ball around to a handful of receivers, his top two being Duke Calhoun (58 catches, 850 yards, five TDs) and Carlos Singleton (47 catches, 704 yards, 10 TDs).
A bowl victory would mean a lot to a Memphis team that lost four of its first six games and was reeling from the early season shooting death of junior defensive lineman Taylor Bradford.
"We had so many things go on, on top of not playing very well to start the season. Then we had the tragic loss of one of our teammates," Memphis coach Tommy West said. "Young people can be pretty resilient and they hung in there and really the last half of the season we played really well and got better as it went along. Our challenge during this time off is to try to get back to where we were, because offensively, we were playing really well when the season ended."