Thursday, September 19, 2002

Schnellenberger returning to Kentucky with new team

AP Sports Writer

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Howard Schnellenberger beamed with pride as he watched the nationally televised Kentucky-Louisville game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium earlier this month. Kentucky, where he played tight end in the 1950s, defeated Louisville, where he coached from 1985-94.

        But what mattered more than the outcome to Schnellenberger was that the game, the stadium and the rivalry had all become exactly what he envisioned when he took the Louisville job.

        Now 68, Schnellenberger will be back in Kentucky on Saturday with his latest project, coaching the Florida Atlantic football program. His Owls (0-3), only in their second year of existence, play at Eastern Kentucky (1-2).

        Schnellenberger, also the Division I-AA program's “director of football operations,” has a sweeping vision for the Owls similar to the one he had for the Cardinals. A new stadium and national recognition are high on the agenda.

        “In some aspects, it's similar to Louisville, but in some aspects, it's very different,” said Schnellenberger. “There were a half a dozen juniors and seniors at Louisville who had leadership and were mature and could set the tone.

        “But when you start with all freshmen, like we did a year ago, you have to expect them to act like seniors as well.”

        Schnellenberger played for Paul “Bear” Bryant and Blanton Collier at Kentucky. He served as Collier's assistant at UK in 1959 and 1960 and then worked for Bryant at Alabama from 1961-65.

        He bounced around the NFL, working for such coaches as Don Shula and George Allen, before becoming the University of Miami's coach in 1979. The Hurricanes won the national championship in 1983.

        Two years later, Louisville lured Schnellenberger to lead its football program out of years of mediocrity.

        Schnellenberger talked boldly, saying Louisville was “on a collision course with the national championship” and declaring aspirations for a new state-of-the-art stadium and the resurrection of the Louisville-Kentucky football series.

        The Cardinals had unprecedented success, capped by a Fiesta Bowl victory over Alabama, but Schnellenberger only stayed long enough to see one of his stated dreams come true.

        His Cardinals met the Wildcats in Lexington to open the 1994 season, their first matchup in 70 years. They've played every year since, attracting near-record crowds and national TV audiences the past two seasons.

        “We thought the series would elevate football in the state to a whole new level, and I think it has,” Schnellenberger said. “It's given fans from both sides a real focal point to come together and demonstrate their love of the game.”

        Schnellenberger left Louisville for Oklahoma in 1994, partly because he was frustrated with continuous snags surrounding a new stadium.

        He was out of a job by 1996, but returned to Louisville for the groundbreaking of the $63 million Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

        “Obviously, you would've liked to have had it sooner than later,” he said. “But I'm not disappointed at all with how it turned out. That stadium is an absolute thing of beauty. It's been a difference-maker for that program.”

        Schnellenberger stayed out of football until Florida Atlantic University contacted him about building a football program from scratch.

        The prospect invigorated him.

        “This was new territory and that was the exciting part about it,” he said. “This is going to be a fine program. I haven't put a timetable on it, but the goal is to become a Division I-A team as quickly as we can.”

        It won't happen before next season, though, when the Owls play at Kentucky in September. But Schnellenberger remains patient.

        “I'm happy with the overall program and the improvement we've shown,” he said. “We've set an aggressive schedule, but it took until our fourth year at Louisville to really get it going.

        “I feel wonderful. My goal is to be here and develop this program. I haven't put any timetable on my career.”

        He'll see some old friends on Saturday, but won't stay in his home state for long.

        “It's always nice to come back to Kentucky. But the game is the overriding reason this time,” he said.


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