During his coaching days, Howard Schnellenberger was rarely seen without his trademark pipe and sporting his signature mustache. While he comes across as confident and sarcastic, Schnellenberger had humble beginnings. In fact, English wasn’t even his first language. Schnellenberger grew up speaking German for the first years of his life, as he comes from a family of immigrants.
“I’m second generation German, and I lived in a town growing up that spoke mostly German before my family moved to a town in Kentucky. My parents then wouldn’t allow any more German. So I had to learn English and I didn’t have much of a vocabulary for a while…”
Schnellenberger was the first one in his family to go to college, and he credits his high school football coach for “even getting him to be qualified to play college football.” It was this high school coach, Paul Miller, who marked the first stepping stone for Schnellenberger in pursuing his football dreams.
In Schnellenberger’s coaching career, he went on to work for Blanton Collier, to Paul Bryant, to George Allen, and then to Don Shula. All of those people he says, “are some of the greatest football minds to ever learn from.” Perhaps an example of what Schnellenberger learned from them would be when he notoriously led Miami in an upset win over Nebraska in the 1983 National Championship game. One of the best parts about the win was the fact that his son Stuart, was playing on the field during that game.
“Stuart didn’t start, since he was a backup center. I had to move him to center because he was actually a tight end and I needed help in the center during that game…he definitely did fulfill himself as a player even though he didn’t make it to the NFL.”
If someone were to ask Schnellenberger who was tougher than the toughest football player he’s ever known, he would probably look that person in the eye and say ‘Stephen.’ Stephen was also one of Schnellenberger’s three sons. However Stephen was born with a rare cancer that affects the endocrine glands, which eventually came to claim him in 2008. Before his passing, he was often seen on the sidelines of FAU football games in his wheelchair.
Throughout his life, Stephen went through a tremendous amount of surgeries, but he persevered on and even got his business degree from the University of Miami. He even managed to hold down a career in real estate, insurance, and computer sales. Stephen was also an advocate for cancer awareness. It was also during a commercial shoot with the American Cancer Society, when his father would give up one of things he was most known for.
His smoking pipes.
When it came time to do the commercial shoot to help raise money for cancer research, the ACS wouldn’t allow Schnellenberger to smoke. This is understandable, since it would be rather ironic to ask for money for cancer research while there’s a man smoking tobacco on set. It was then that Schnellenberger discarded around 50 pipes accumulating to about 10,000 dollars. Schnellenberger says he hasn’t picked up a pipe since then.
As far as his new book called “Passing the Torch” goes, the title is supposed to be symbolic of Schnellenberger passing on his football knowledge from one generation to the other.
“This is a project that started in 1948 and didn’t end until 2011… It is a book of passion and of information…For the last 40 some years of coaching…people have come to me and asked me when was I going to write my book. And I’ve always answered ‘well I can’t write a book until the final chapter is written’… I wanted to write a book about the great game of college football.”
Indeed the final chapter has been written. Yes, Schnellenberger’s days of coaching have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean the effects of his coaching haven’t. The former coach’s legacies of rebuilding football programs like Louisville’s, University of Miami’s, and FAU’s still live on. Now in his post-coaching life, Schnellenberger will be travelling around with his wife signing his book for fans, sporting the moustache, with Stephen somewhere smiling down from up above.