Howard Schnellenberger had yet to coach his first game at Florida Atlantic University when he unveiled a new steak-house restaurant in 2001. Coach Schnellenberger's the Original Steakhouse & Sports Theatre in Plantation opened as the flagship of a future chain, and two more quickly followed.
The idea made some sense: The restaurant would capitalize on the name Schnellenberger had established as the first coach to win a national championship at the University of Miami, in 1983. He had just begun a new career at Florida Atlantic, and surely the restaurants would benefit from the fame about to come from a national title that he promised was coming to Boca.
The famously mustached coach's dream of a steak-house chain ended in 2007. He pulled his name from the restaurants, which led to their demise. At the time, he told the Sun-Sentinel: "It became obvious we weren't putting out a good enough product as we needed to be."
That year would also have been a good time for Schnellenberger to pull his name out of football. That year, Florida Atlantic's football team went 8-5, won the Sun Belt Conference for the first time, and were the victors at the New Orleans Bowl. He could've retired on top and gone out as the coach that brought Florida Atlantic's new football team to national prominence.
Instead, Schnellenberger is expected to announce today that he will retire at the end of this
season after watching his team degrade into mediocrity. He now has a losing record, 57-63 overall. This year, the Bleacher Report picks Florida Atlantic to come in dead last in the Sun Belt and ranks the team 103rd overall -- out of 120 college football programs.
That's no surprise considering the past two seasons. The team went 5-7 in 2009 and 4-8 last year -- tied for last place.
Schnellenberger was smart enough to pull his name from the steak houses when the quality degraded, but he didn't have that same premonition with football. Those who have met him know why: He's famously stubborn, to the point where his assistants joke that he would like to control the weather.
His 13-year history with Florida Atlantic is his longest tenure with any team. Accusations of drunkenness and harsh treatment of players led to his firing in 1995 from the University of Oklahoma. He tallied a pitiful 4-13 record as coach of the Baltimore Colts before he was sacked. And he quit in a huff from Louisville in 1994 after the school entered an athletic conference that Schnellenberger didn't like.
By now, however, it likely became clear to the coach and Florida Atlantic that the coach famous for his bellowing whistle and often-puffing pipe wouldn't be bringing a national championship to Boca. Instead, if projections are correct, he very well might oversee the worst year in the history of the program, in a year when Florida Atlantic moves in to its new, $70 million football stadium.
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For this cover story in 2002, Schnellenberger told New Times that he'd stay in Boca for however long it took to win a national championship. "Whatever time it takes," Schnellenberger said. "This is a long-range thing. Anybody concerned about us not winning now has to understand that we're in this for the long haul."
Truth is, Schnellenberger nearly brought prominence to a school once nicknamed "F-A-Who?" Instead, he stayed long enough to watch that moniker become relevant again.