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Jamie Vaught: New Schnellenberger book contains much to interest Kentucky fans


Florida Atlantic's football field is named for Howard Schnellenberger, who spearheaded the construction of the $70 million facility (Florida Atlantic University Photo)

Florida Atlantic’s football field is named for Howard Schnellenberger, who spearheaded the construction of the $70 million facility (Florida Atlantic University Photo)

 

During the early days, around 1960, when a young Howard Schnellenberger was working as an assistant football coach at Kentucky, he did something that was forbidden on the UK campus.
 

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Since he was late for a team meeting, Schnellenberger rushed to find a parking space, and after a second go-around, he saw an empty spot and parked his car near Memorial Coliseum (where UK basketball team practiced and played their home games during that time). And that parking space was fairly close to Stoll Field, which was the home for UK football from 1916 to 1972 and was located across the street (Avenue of Champions) from Memorial Coliseum.
 

But as it turned out, the assistant coach wasn’t so lucky after all. His car had taken a prime parking spot that belonged to someone else who was very famous.
 

And that someone else was Adolph Rupp.
 

Uh-oh. Schnellenberger, then working for football coach Blanton Collier, was in trouble.
 

“It wasn’t long after the meeting when I was summoned to the basketball coaches office to explain why I had trespassed and parked in Adolph Rupp’s parking spot,” recalled Schnellenberger in a recent e-mail. “Coach Rupp sat me down in his office and told me that it was a poor decision to park in his spot, that everyone on campus knew it was his spot.
 

“He said, ‘You should have known, that you should have known,’ and that this wasn’t something to put on my resume if I was ever to move up in the coaching world. Everyone laughed at me, ‘Who would have been so stupid to park in Adolph Rupp’s parking spot!'”
 

But there is a good ending from this Rupp-Schnellenberger’s episode.
 

“We became closer as a few years went by and in fact I was one of the few non-basketball people that he would allow to watch any of his UK practices,” added Schnelleberger, who also played football at UK where he was a first-team All-American in 1955.
 

As you may recall, in 1959 Schnellenberger was a member of a very impressive coaching staff at UK which was loaded with future NFL head coaches like Don Shula, John North and Bill Arnsparger (in addition to Collier). Chuck Knox, a Collier assistant in 1961 and ’62, became the head coach of three NFL teams over three decades.
 

Anyhow, that was before Schnellenberger became a household name with his head coaching success at several stops — including rebuilding then-lowly teams Miami and Louisville, and starting a new program from scratch at Florida Atlantic — before retiring from coaching after the 2011 campaign.
 

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And Schnellenberger, who now lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., with his wife Beverlee, has just penned an interesting autobiography (with Ronald Smith), titled “Passing the Torch” (Ascend Books, $24.95). For the most part, it is enjoyable volume, containing many items of interest to Kentuckians.
 

The last chapter is a good one, too. Titled “My Last Press Conference (Maybe),” that chapter is actually a sit-down interview with his collaborator (Smith) with no subjects off limits. He was pretty frank and candid on many topics, including UK coach Mark Stoops, ex-U of L and current Texas coach Charlie Strong, current Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino, among others.
 

A long-time disciple of Paul “Bear” Bryant and Don Shula, Schnellenberger was in Louisville recently for book signings. He was also scheduled to sign books in Tuscaloosa during the Alabama-Florida football weekend of Sept. 20.
 

The former coach said it was definitely a challenge to put together his thoughts and write a book.
 

“The degree of difficulty on a scale of 1-10 is close to a 9,” said Schnelleberger of his 304-page book. “In fact, it took us almost two years to get from conception through birth of the stories. It was appropriate that I waited until I completed my last hurrah at Florida Atlantic University.”
 

During his FAU career, he aggressively pushed for a new football stadium on campus. In 2011, his dream became true as the new $70 million, 30,000-seat facility was finally completed. The school announced last month that the playing field at its stadium would be named in honor of Schnellenberger.
 

“This is probably the highlight of my coaching career,” Schnellenberger said of the honor. The coach still continues to work at FAU as an ambassador at large.
 

Asked if he wished he had the opportunity to be the head coach at UK, his alma mater, Schnellenberger said, “In the daydreams of my life, it always lingered there. It almost happened twice but in each case each of us couldn’t make it happen. I think it’s the dream of every alumni coach to return to the scene of his genesis.”
 

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Schnellenberger, who played for both Bryant and Collier at Kentucky, has a strong opinion on why it’s difficult for UK to win in college football.
 

“I’ve responded to these questions in the last several years,” he said, “and to summarize my concerns — it’s apparent that the loyal sons and daughters of the university are not deeply enough concerned about the inconsistent play of the team over the years. Much like the University of Louisville prior to 1985, as I discussed in my book, a deep and long look at the infrastructure would be the first step in trying to rectify the problem.”
 

He also added in his book that he doesn’t believe that Kentucky can win an SEC championship, either.
 

Nevertheless, Kentucky is now going through some initial steps in changing the culture of UK football with recent recruiting success and the school’s current $165 million football construction, including the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, which opened in 1973.
 

After a two-year coaching stint as a UK assistant (1959 and ’60), Schnellenberger went on to become a five-year assistant at Alabama (where ex-Kentucky boss Bear Bryant was the head coach) before going to the NFL for the next seven seasons, serving as an assistant to George Allen at Los Angeles and Don Shula at Miami, including working as the offensive coordinator of the famous 1972 Dolphins’ 17-0 Super Bowl-winning team.
 

Then Schnellenberger took the head coaching job for the Baltimore Colts for nearly two years before returning to the Dolphins to help Shula.
 

In 1979, he began to rebuild the struggling Miami Hurricanes program and led them to the 1983 college football national championship.
 

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In 1985, Schnellenberger stunned many folks by taking the head coaching job at U of L, returning to his hometown where he played at Bishop Flaget High School with future Notre Dame and NFL legend Paul Hornung.
 

“Like most people, all of my friends and all of my enemies, they thought I had lost my mind,” said Schnellenberger. “(I was) coming off of a national championship season to walk into a grave yard for coaches and players, and attempt to do the same thing at U of L as I did in Miami. (After) starting out with a 2-9, 3-8 and 3-7-1 in my first three years, they were positive I lost my mind.
 

“After going 8-3 with (Jay) Gruden at the helm his senior year, and obviously qualified for a bowl game, but no one gave us a smell at a bowl game. That, however, gave people a grain of hope.”
 

And his Cardinals eventually rose to the occasion in 1990, finishing No. 14 in the final AP poll with a glossy 10-1-1 mark, including a big Fiesta Bowl victory over mighty Alabama.
 

Any final comments by Schnellenberger?
 

“With a few precincts now reporting, it gives us a belief and strength that people are finding this book very interesting and a great read,” said the retired 80 year-old coach. “With the Louisville trip behind us, I look forward to coming back home to the genesis of my 55-year football career (Lexington).”
 

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. The editor of KySportsStyle360.com online magazine is also a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.
 

Click here to read more from Jamie Vaught


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