In the first half versus Eastern Kentucky's Colonels, Schnellenberger's team plays like the product of an organization that only a legendary coach could build. The players know the importance of this road trip. They haven't won a game yet this year, after a 4-6 record in their first season. Challenging Eastern Kentucky for the first time marks the beginning of the toughest part of this year's schedule, which includes games against Division I-A Troy State and Connecticut. Losing in Kentucky could be another step toward the unthinkable: a winless season.
On the opening drive, Eastern Kentucky moves into Florida Atlantic territory and takes a risk on fourth down, 34 yards from the end zone. But Owl cornerback Willie Hughley gets a hand in front of an arcing pass destined for a receiver in the corner of the end zone, sending the ball into the grass. Allen takes over at quarterback and answers with a wafting 56-yard pass to the team's star, wide receiver Brittney Tellis, who goes out of bounds four yards from the end zone.
Schnellenberger doesn't wear headphones or call most plays, instead frequently relying on his assistants. He shows little emotion during the game, occasionally clapping his hands together for a big offensive play as he paces the sideline. Sometimes, when the team is on offense, Schnellenberger takes quarterback Allen aside during time-outs. "He'll tell me to pull together, that I can do it," Allen says. "It's always encouraging."
The Owls' opening drive against Eastern Kentucky stalls with only four yards to go. Allen throws an incomplete pass; then two attempts to run the ball gain nothing. Schnellenberger's team settles for a field goal from the two-yard line.
In the second quarter, Florida Atlantic recovers a fumble and turns it into another field goal. But Eastern Kentucky answers on the next possession by driving confidently down the field, capping the effort with a ten-yard touchdown run. Then, with time running out in the half, Eastern Kentucky rumbles over FAU's defense to the 28-yard line. With nine seconds left, the Colonels kick a field goal, making the score 10-6 for Eastern Kentucky.
Just four points behind one of the toughest Division I-AA teams in the country, the second-year team from Boca doesn't seem dispirited heading into the locker room. Despite the Owls' dismal record and lack of a touchdown against the Colonels, Schnellenberger jogs toward the tunnel amid camera flashes.
Schnellenberger's style didn't serve him well when he began raising money to start the football program, says Boca stockbroker Howard Guggenheim, a long-time financial supporter of the university. Guggenheim says he met with Schnellenberger shortly after the coach started fundraising efforts. "He said he hadn't gotten very far," Guggenheim recalls. "That's when I offered to help out."
Schnellenberger doesn't remember it that way. He says he had already been successful raising cash when Guggenheim offered to donate $50,000. The coach had solicited money at Rotary clubs, at a celebrity fishing tournament he organized, on the golf course (even though he hates the game), and from a tree stump he dragged into the campus cafeteria. "Right at the beginning, the fundraising went very well," Schnellenberger says.
Either way, the school has managed to raise more than $15 million for the team in just seven years, allowing it to spend money like a first-rate football program. The money allowed the university to sign a three-year contract with Pro Player, home to the Dolphins and Marlins. The contract cost the school $640,000 last year. That's more than the $558,000 payroll for the team's 11 coaches.
Florida Atlantic won't reveal who has donated money. State law allows the university to raise cash using a private charity, the Florida Atlantic University Foundation, which doesn't have to abide by open-records laws even though it uses university employees and campus offices. The foundation, which also raises money for other athletic and academic programs, indicated on tax forms last year that it paid Schnellenberger $50,000, making his total salary nearly $250,000. But state law allows the foundation to keep arrangements with donors private -- such as trading perks for contributions. Guggenheim, the foundation's president, says no back-room agreements have been made. "No deals, no deals. None. Do you hear me?" he says with conviction. However, the university has rewarded top donors with a sports-bar-like lounge in the athletic department and seats on the $50,000-per-game chartered planes the team uses for travel.