Florida Atlantic's multimillion-dollar investment in a legendary coach has so far been a bust

Florida Atlantic competes for recruits in a state that's home not only to the biggest and best college football teams in the country but also to a plethora of programs that are at least respectable. Meanwhile, Florida International University in Miami debuted a football program this year that competes with Florida Atlantic for local recruits. Florida International also has plans to play in Division I-A in a few years, meaning that Florida Atlantic, if it reaches that level, could be one of seven Division I-A teams in Florida vying for the top recruits.

Florida Atlantic's selling point has always been Schnellenberger: the man, the legend, and the 43 years worth of coaching connections. Jovonny Ward, a 20-year-old free safety for Florida Atlantic, remembers when Schnellenberger walked into his parents' home in Miami. "He's like an antique or something," Ward says. "He's like this big presence, like the old-school coaches used to be. And he's right in front of me."

Allen, who fits the stereotype of a 21-year-old quarterback with his handsome squared face and scruffy chin, was the team's only out-of-state player last year and is one of only four this year. The QB's high school coach in Oklahoma, an old friend of assistant coach Van Valkenburg's, recommended the rookie team. "I had never heard of FAU or Boca Raton, I have to admit," Allen says. He took a trip to Boca two years ago to meet with Schnellenberger, who gave him an ultimatum: sign with the team by the end of the visit or forget about a proffered scholarship. With no other such offers, Allen took the deal.

Colby Katz
Florida Atlantic paid nearly $80,000 to rent Pro Player Stadium for its opening-day loss, but only 8,000 fans showed. Far right, cornerback Lee Pasick finds himself on the bench after starting last year.
Colby Katz
Florida Atlantic paid nearly $80,000 to rent Pro Player Stadium for its opening-day loss, but only 8,000 fans showed. Far right, cornerback Lee Pasick finds himself on the bench after starting last year.

Tellis, the team's top offensive threat, settled for the Owls after being selected a Miami-Dade County all-star from Northwestern High School. He says he came to Florida Atlantic because of the coach's propensity for passing plays. Schnellenberger uses the old-style pro set, meaning receivers like Tellis get more playing time than they would at most second-tier colleges, which often concentrate on the run. But for all his obvious talents pulling in footballs, his diminutive size -- five feet, nine inches and 170 pounds -- certainly hurt Tellis' chances of playing for a topnotch school.

Considering the current team, it's unclear whether the Schnellenberger sales pitch works. The university's miserable record isn't necessarily an indication, Owls coaches insist. Current players would be sitting on the bench at an established football program for two or three years before the starters graduate.

In addition, some current players may lose their scholarships because the Owls must make openings for freshmen. Cornerback Lee Pasick has learned how that may work. Defensive player of the year at his high school in Sarasota, Pasick started every game last year. This year, Schnellenberger has allowed younger players to try out for his spot. "I'm not happy not starting," Pasick says, referring to the fact that he was benched for this year's first two games. "But it's encouraging that guys behind me stepped up."

Florida Atlantic may have looked well-coached after the first half of the game versus Eastern Kentucky, but the second half makes the Owls seem less than prepared for Division I-A. In fact, it makes them appear less than ready for Division I-AA.

Starting at Florida Atlantic's 20-yard line, quarterback Allen throws two passes that fail to find the hands of wide receiver Larry Taylor; one bounces off Taylor's shoulder pad, and the second sails over his head. Eastern Kentucky's new game plan seems to be to double-team Tellis, which leaves Allen with few options. On the third down, coaches take too long to send Allen a play, and the Owls must call a time-out. Then, when the offense finally lines up, a lineman flinches, sending the offense five yards deeper into its own territory. Finally, Allen tries spiraling a pass into the outstretched hands of Tellis, but two Eastern Kentucky players sandwich the short receiver, and the pass falls into the grass.

On fourth and 15, Schnellenberger sends out Andy Rosas, who's still recovering from a concussion he suffered in the first game of the season, to punt from the end zone. A crimson swarm of Eastern Kentucky players surrounds Rosas, blocking the kick. The ball rolls dangerously through the end zone, out of the hands of Eastern Kentucky defenders, then wobbles under the goal post and out of play. Eastern Kentucky gets the ball and two points for a safety.

The game doesn't improve for Florida Atlantic during the rest of the half. Facing a successful double-team defense and a painful groin injury, Tellis catches only one pass for 16 yards. An ineffective running game totals only 25 yards for the day. Allen completes just 11 of his 28 passes, but Schnellenberger sticks with him, leaving Jahn on the sidelines. The team fails to score a touchdown all day, so the offense never collects the backup QB's 11 cents. The final score: Eastern Kentucky 19, Florida Atlantic 6.

Heading to the locker room, Allen continues to compliment his coach. "He just kept telling me, 'We need two drives, just two drives,'" Allen says, his white jersey caught in a shoulder pad, black paint running below his eyes. "'We just need that first one to break the ice,' that's what he kept saying."

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