CRAWFORD | In his new autobiography, Schnellenberger recounts a - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | In his new autobiography, Schnellenberger recounts a football life

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In an editorial cartoon, Howard Schnellenberger is proposed as a replacement for George Bush on the Republican Ticket. Bush, who later became president, sent the coach a signed copy. (Click to enlarge) In an editorial cartoon, Howard Schnellenberger is proposed as a replacement for George Bush on the Republican Ticket. Bush, who later became president, sent the coach a signed copy. (Click to enlarge)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It takes about three pages for Howard Schnellenberger's new autobiography, Passing the Torch, to get into the kind of storytelling that those who know the coach would expect.

Schnellenberger writes about his recruitment out of Flaget High School in Louisville, telling about flying on a DC-3 to Miami that wasn't even outfitted for passenger use, arriving with a friend by his side and $2 in his pocket. They took off walking for Coral Gables, spent $2 on a hotel room for the night, and got picked up the next day by coaches.

Schnellenberger committed to Miami. Then, when he got home, he also committed to Indiana, because the family was originally from St. Meinrad, Ind., and his father wanted him to.

Then Paul "Bear" Bryant got involved. The University of Kentucky coach stepped into Schnellenberger's living room and brought a guest along -- Kentucky governor Lawrence Weatherby. When the Flaget All-Stater stuck by his IU commitment, Weatherby asked his father to step into the kitchen for a minute, and when the two men emerged the dad advised him that maybe he should think about going to his state school. Schnellenberger stuck to his IU pledge.

A week later Bryant made another run at Schnellenberger. This time, he came to the home with John Alexander Floersh, the Archbishop of Louisville. He visited with Schnellenberger's mom in the kitchen, and she emerged with the message, "God wants you to what's best for you. He will understand if you change your mind."

So, Schnellenberger's autobiography begins, with Bear Bryant moving both heaven and earth to get him to the University of Kentucky.

They don't make coaches like Schnellenberger anymore. They don't carry themselves like he does, they don't talk like he does. Nobody can drop names like he can. The first sentence of his book begins with Mount Rushmore, but for Schnellenberger, that's only a base camp. His two coaching mentors are immortalized with statues -- Bear Bryant and Don Shula, who wrote the book's Foreword. He also credits his high school coach, Paulie Miller, and his coach at UK, Blanton Coller, as well as the man who "lifted me into the NFL fraternity," George Allen.

The book's full title is, Passing the Torch: Building Winning Football Programs ... with a Dose of Swagger Along the Way.

It's a big title. Everything about Schnellenberger is big. It's why Bobby Bowden said of him, "Of all the coaches I've known, Howard is the closest I've seen to being like Bryant. There's a reverence about him."

He no longer smokes the pipe, having quit after shooting a commercial for the American Cancer Society about a decade ago. But he still speaks his mind.

When Schnellenberger came to Louisville proclaiming his famous "collision course with a national championship, the only variable is time," he knew people would laugh at him. He also knew they would listen, and he knew he had to be bold to keep them listening, especially in the early years when he was just building the talent to be competitive.

"People thought I was a brazen hustler and maybe I was," Schnellenberger writes, "but if we didn't go out and sell the gospel of college football, we wouldn't have had a chance to build the support we needed to have sustained success."

He talks about upgrading the team's schedule to get the attention of local media, which turned to Kentucky Derby in spring and college basketball as soon as November rolled around. Once the Cardinals beat Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl, Schnellenberger writes, "We could finally shame Kentucky into playing us on the gridiron."

He said the Kentucky series, and the commitment U of L got to a home-and-home if it built a stadium, was the crucial component of getting stadium plans in motion, a stadium he'd never get to coach in as Louisville coach.

He left for Oklahoma rather than lead the Cardinals on a Conference USA course.

"I expected Louisville to be the last stop in my coaching career, even if I was miffed at the school for its decision to join a mid-level conference that would do nothing for the football program," he writes. "The basketball coach, Denny Crum, was also opposed to the move, but the president, Donald Swain, moved against the advice of both of us."

"I had advised against joining Conference USA because I didn't want to build our fall schedule around Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane and Houston. I wanted to schedule and compete nationally. Now the Liberty Bowl was probably the best we could do."

For a great many years, he was right. But perhaps in the big picture on this issue, he wasn't. U of L likely wouldn't have reached the Big East without Conference USA. And when the Cardinals begin play in the ACC Monday night, they'll have some Big East football success to thank.

Of that move, Schnellenberger said he is thrilled. "You bet I am," he writes. "That level of competition is what I wanted for them when I was there. Their decision to join a second-tier conference was a big part of why I left."

Fans or admirers of Schnellenberger won't be disappointed. He writes about his short stay at Oklahoma after leaving Louisville as, "The most difficult period to discuss in my long football life."

Then he dives into it. He also recounts his final experience in program building, at Florida Atlantic.

The book ends on a nice note. Schnellenberger gives his philosophies for recruiting success, then sits down for what he calls his "last press conference," an extended Q&A with writer Ron Smith.

The discussion ranges from concerns over the game's future because of safety, "I think it will be played to infinity . . . This great game is woven into our society," to discussions of UK's football future to his opinion on whether he'll ever reach the Football Hall of Fame.

It even takes Schnellenberger all the way to the end, with his game plan for when the final horn sounds.

"I told Beverlee I want my ashes spread on all my playing fields," he says. "She is going to take me on a final tour."

In "Passing the Torch," Schnellenberger illustrates what a remarkable tour it has been.

The coach will conduct a number of book signings in Louisville over the next several days, leading up to U of L's game against Miami Monday night. A listing:
  • Saturday: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Kroger, 9080 Taylorsville Road; and 2-4 p.m. at Kroger, 3039 Breckenridge Lane.

  • Sunday: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in the Paddock Shops, 4100 Summit Plaza Drive; and 2-5 p.m. (reception at 2 p.m.; signing at 3) at the Northeast Family YMCA, 9400 Mill Brook Road.

  • Monday: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Kroger, 1265 Goss Ave.; and 2-4 p.m. at Kroger, 3165 S. Second St.

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