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Howard Schnellenberger led Miami to its first national title nearly 20 years before beginning the football program at FAU.

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'Finest hour'

For Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to the national title and founded the FAU football program, seeing the Canes and Owls meet on Friday will mark his greatest achievement in Boca Raton.

Originally published on 8/25/2013

by Chuck King

BOCA RATON – Ask former FAU and Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger about the importance of Friday's Owls-Hurricanes game and he'll immediately start taking about Louisville.

Like most of Schnellenberger's apparent non-sequittors, he's taking a detour to get to a point.

A former star tight end at the University of Kentucky, Schellenberger returned to his home state in 1985 to build a Louisville program that had been playing since 1912 but had never really enjoyed national success.

At the time Louisville and Kentucky refused to acknowledge the other's existence on the football field. The Wildcats of the powerhouse SEC wouldn't legitimize the Cardinals by meeting them on the field.

Schnellenberger knew that if his Cardinals were to be taken seriously he needed to play UK in Lexington. It took nearly a decade, but Schnellenberger got that game.

“That was a monumental improvement in status as far as Louisville's rise to promise,” said Schnellenberger, who led Louisville to a No. 14 ranking in 1990.

“An instate rivalry has always been the backbone of a football program. It wasn't until Auburn came to life some 30 or 40 years after the University of Alabama was playing football that the University of Alabama took on the beginnings of the great dynasty of college football.”

Schnellenberger knows dynasties. As Bear Bryant's offensive coordinator in the 1960s he helped guide the Tide to three national championships in five years. He's most famous, though, for launching the University of Miami dynasty by leading the Hurricanes to the 1983 national title – their first of five in an 18-year period.

When Schnellenberger began the program at FAU, he knew the Owls could never become a player on the national landscape until they faced Miami.

“This game is my finest hour at FAU," Schnellenberger said.

Schnellenberger's hour is going to last about a week. He'll make sure of it.

Miami is taking advantage of Friday's game – the first of three between the Canes and Owls over the next four seasons - to honor members of that national championship team from 30 years ago, including the coach.

Schnellenberger will serve as the honorary captain for both the Owls and Hurricanes. He's thinking of cutting one FAU baseball cap and one Miami baseball cap in half, then sewing two halves together to create some sort of "FAUAMI" hybrid hat that he can wear to the coin toss.

He concedes there will be some emotional moments.

“I'm going to rejoice in things of the past and I'm going to be pulling like a son of a bitch for things in the present,” said Schnellenberger, who still works for FAU in the development office as an Ambassador At Large.

Miami fans could certainly find it odd that Schnellenberger hopes the Owls will win on Friday. They shouldn't.

The national championship will always be the singular crowning on-field achievement for Schnellenberger.

He'll be wearing the championship ring from that season on Friday, no doubt showing it off and posing for pictures with anyone at Sun Life Stadium.

“This is my most important thing,”said Schnellenberger, pointing to that ring. “But (FAU), in time, will turn out to be my biggest legacy.”

Why? Because Schnellenberger still considers the FAU football program to be his baby. And he still believes the Owls are only a few years away from being a national power.

Even though Schnellenberger hasn't been part of the operation of the team since retiring after the 2011 season, the Owls are still his pride.

“It's a creation,” Schnellenberger said, sporting the beginning of a wry smile indicating a little more Howard Hyperbole is coming. “Only God does that – and football coaches.”

Most of the Schnellenberger talk this week will surround his accomplishments at Miami. Should this series continues for any length of time, Schnellenberger firmly believes the focus will shift to his accomplishments in Boca Raton.

“This will always be my program,” Schnellenberger said. “This is my everlasting marriage. I've been married eight other times, but I've been here longer than any other place. Contrary to common thought, this is my greatest success.”

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