BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
There aren’t many events that I would participate in with Covid-19 still present and a game/trip to Detroit the next day for My Mom’s Memorial Service on Sunday, September 12, 2021.
But going to Coach Howard Schnellenberger’s Celebration was an absolute no brainer!
This event lasted until Midnight and FAU opened its home season vs Georgia Southern on Saturday September 11, at 3:30 PM.
For Candy Ebling and I, we stood for the first quarter with the Owls trailing 6-0, then headed to Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
By the time we boarded our flight, FAU rolled to a 38-6 win.
Going to this celebration was something I had and wanted to do.
My first major college football beat was in 1983 when I had the opportunity to work with Schnellenberger at the University of Miami.
When Schnellenberger died on March 27, 2021, I was taking a drive on North A1A to Hobe Sound and couldn’t believe what I had heard.
I knew coach had health issues the past couple years and was 87-years old.
He turned around a Miami program that was nearly eliminated then subsequently won the National Championship with the Hurricanes in 1984 by defeating a heavily favored Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 at the Orange Bowl.
I would reunite with Coach Schnellenberger in 2007 when I was hired to work for a weekly newspaper in Deerfield Beach. He gave me an open door policy and we saw the new fledgling FAU football program make incredible progress through the years. He also gave me his telephone number.
Like many of his players, he was a father figure to me and when I asked for advice about life, he gave me plenty of it. After he retired, he invited me to his house, gave me a book and signed it. We would talk about the early days when FAU played at Lockhart Stadium then ultimately landed an on campus stadium. We took some great photos together.
I covered FAU’s first two bowl games and both were wins.
FAU defeated Memphis in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl and followed that up with another win in the 2008 Motor City Bowl over Central Michigan.
I once asked coach if it ever bothered him that he wasn’t a member of the College Football Hall of Fame?
He told me, “I am disappointed but take great pleasure in turning around Miami, Louisville and building FAU from scratch.”
He considered each of these situations his children and is honored at every one of these stops.
He often referenced FAU as his newborn child.
Schnellenberger played an intricate part in having Louisville getting an on-campus stadium.
Current FAU Coach Willie Taggart looked at his career and felt he had a lot in common with Schnellenberger.
“We took bad programs and made them better,” Taggart said. “You leave a place better then you inherited it, see players get better, and he affected a lot of young people, coaches and the community with what he did with the program.”
Former University of Georgia Coach Jim Donnan, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009, appeared on My Sports Exchanged Podcast and we talked about whether Schnellenberger belonged in the Hall of Fame. Schnellenberger’s all-time collegiate record is 158-151-3 and is 6-0 in Bowl Games.
For a coach to make the Hall of Fame, he must have a .600 winning percentage.
He said, “Yes, but unfortunately the Hall of Fame judges by a coaches record, not by the ability to be a pioneer and being a program builder.”
At the celebration, among those that spoke were representatives from FAU, the Miami Dolphins, Miami Hurricanes, the University of Louisville. There were other prominent people from Palm Beach County that spoke as well. There were 24 people that attended and spoke during the main program, in addition to video tributes from NFL Legends Bob Griese (Miami Dolphins) and Joe Namath (New York Jets).
Some of the notable names included: Jared Allen (FAU), Dick Anderson (Miami Dolphins), Don Bailey Jr. (University of Miami), Kim Bokamper (Miami Dolphins), Tony Fitzpatrick (University of Miami), John Kelly (FAU President), Bernie Kosar (University of Miami), George Linley (Palm Beach Sports Commission), Mercury Morris (Miami Dolphins), Browning Nagle (University of Louisville), Gary Nord (Louisville, Oklahoma, FAU), Maria Sachs (Palm Beach Commisioner), Dick Schmidt (FAU), Scott Singer (Mayor of Boca Raton), Dwight Stephenson (Alabama, Miami Dolphins), Kurt Van Valkenburgh (Louisville, Oklahoma, FAU) and Brian White (FAU VP-Director of Athletics).
Former local television broadcaster Tony Segreto was the master of ceremonies. Here are some of the comments that stood out.
President Kelly said, “Howard was the father of football. He brought national attention to FAU Football. He changed FAU from a commuter college. We were in the house that Howard Built.”
Baily said, “that Howard had a vision and said that UM would win a National Championship before the program hadn’t won anything. Howard had a way of getting his players and staff to believe his plan. They outworked everyone, they were in the best condition, most organized and to never be intimidated.”
Mayor of Boca Raton Scott Singer declared Friday, September 10, a Celebration of Life Day in Boca Raton.
Nord said, “the most important thing we can give our team is confidence. It’s not about win/lose, it’s pushing our players out of their comfort zone on a daily basis.”
Allen said, “you were always welcome and it was always a family atmosphere. Don’t over coach and Howard had an unbelievable vision.”
Morris said, “Howard was never funny and was always serious. He was in the press box as a field general. He was the most competitive coach of all time and he saw things as a chess board.”
Kosar said, “Howard didn’t see skin color, didn’t see race. He changed football and recruiting. He would recruit from the inner city.”
White talked about Howard building the program from scratch. In the beginning, Howard was told to find 50 founders and he found 100. He was the fastest to take a program to a bowl game and beat a heavy favorite Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.
Linley said that starting in 2021, The Boca Raton Bowl Trophy will be named Coach Howard Schnellenberger Championship Trophy.
All those that spoke thanked Mrs. Schnellenberger for being their “Football Mom.”
Mrs. Schnellenberger thanked all of us for attending the Celebration and her heart is so happy with how any coach could be so honored.
She also wanted to pay tribute to the lives that were lost 20 years ago on September 11, 2001.
A lot of people ended the event with Schnellenberger’s favorite saying, “To believe is to be strong.”
As I come to FAU Stadium and cover games here, I can only think of yesteryear when the Owls primarily played at Lockhart Stadium.
Now there is a football complex behind this venue.
It’s neat to sit in the Press Box and know that I’m looking at Howard Schnellenberger Field.
People came far away places to show their love for a man that made them better people.
Loving Schnellenberger is easy for me because of our history together.
I’ll never forget the Sunday evening calls at dinner time when FAU Assistant Athletic Director Katrina McCormack would have myself, Palm Beach Post Marcus Nelson, plus others talk about Saturday’s Game. Even though I was eating dinner with my parents, they understood I had and wanted to take this call.
RIP, Coach Schnellenberger because it was an honor to be a part of Your Incredible Celebration.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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