by Billy Reed
WAVE 3 News Contributor
The 2014 ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame includes coaches Mike Belotti of Chico State and Oregon; Jim Carlen of West Virginia, Texas Tech and South Carolina; Pete Cawthon Sr. of Texas Tech; Danny Ford of Clemson and Arkansas; Billy Jack Murphy of Memphis; and Darryl Rodgers of Cal State-Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State and Arizona State.
Nothing against any of these worthy gentlemen, but they probably would agree there's one thing that's terribly wrong about the ballot: Howard Schnellenberger is not on it. Again. In fact, Schnellenberger will never be on it even though he has one of the greatest pedigrees in football history.
The National Football Foundation, which runs the selection process, has in place a rule that no head coach can be considered unless he won at least 60 percent of his games. In more than 20 years at Miami, Louisville, Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic, Schnellenberger's record was 158-153-3.
On the surface, the numbers aren't distinguished. But the numbers also don't take into account that Schnellenberger single-handedly took the programs at Miami and Louisville off life support and built the Florida Atlantic program from scratch.
And there's more, much more.
-Only four years after he took over the all-but-dead Miami program, Schnellenberger won the national championship when his 1983 Hurricanes shocked unbeaten Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, one of the biggest upsets in football history. No coach on this year's ballot ever came close to winning a national championship.
-Although Belotti and Carlen coached in more bowl games, neither can match Schnellenberger's 6-0 record in the postseason. That included Louisville's blowout victory over Alabama in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.
-Unlike Ford, Schnellenberger was never in trouble with the NCAA.
-As an assistant to Paul "Bear" Bryant in the early 1960s, Schnellenberger earned two national championship rings.
-As a college player, he was an All-American end at Kentucky under coach Blanton Collier in 1955.
-A specialist in developing quarterbacks, he coached Joe Namath at Alabama, Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar at Miami and Browning Nagle and Jeff Brohm at Louisville.
But let's go back to that winning percentage. When you take over programs as abysmal as Miami and Louisville were when they called on Schnellenberger, or when you start one from scratch, you know you're going to have some losing seasons.
Had Schnellenberger stayed at Miami, or had he taken one of the marquee job offers that came his way, he almost assuredly would have won at least 70 percent of his games. But he chose to be a builder. As he once put it after a talk with Notre Dame, "I'd rather be someplace where I'm the first Howard Schnellenberger instead of the next Knute Rockne."
It seems patently unfair that he should be penalized for developing new fans for the game in places where football interest was minimal, at best. Today Louisville plays in a state-of-the-art 55,000-seat stadium and is a Top 25 program, thanks to the foundation Schnellenberger laid from 1985 through '94.
Although several college presidents and former Schnellenberger players have lobbied on his behalf, the National Football Foundation so far has refused to make an exception to its rule, which begs the question, "What's so magic about 60 percent?" Statistical minimums are not put on players. A quarterback, for example, doesn't have to pass for X number of yards to make the ballot. So why put arbitrary percentages on coaches?
Far more important than a coach's winning percentage is his contribution to the game, his employers and the communities where he worked. His record on NCAA compliance and his emphasis on education also should matter. These are things that can't be measured statistically but should have more to do with how we measure a coach than his winning percentage.
Schnellenberger recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and it's a shame the National Football Foundation didn't give him the present he would have cherished most. Understand, nobody is saying that he should be given any kind of a free pass. But he at least deserves to be on the ballot so that the voters can have their say.
Nothing against Billy Jack Murphy or Darryl Rodgers or any of the others, but can any knowledgeable football expert seriously make the argument that they are more deserving of the Hall of Fame than Howard Schnellenberger? Please.
The longer the National Football Foundation maintains its rigid, uncompromising position, the sillier it will look. This is not a Pete Rose case. Schnellenberger's record is blemish-free. No, it's about an arbitrary guideline that is not carved in stone, no matter what the National Football Foundation might say to the contrary.
It is said that football builds character. I urge the National Football Foundation to show some character and do the right thing by giving Howard Schnellenberger the opportunity he has earned and fully deserves.
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