It’s been 21 years since Howard Schnellenberger’s infamous one season at Oklahoma in 1995.
There hasn’t been another one like it since.
Let’s get on thing straight first, Howard was a helluva football coach, just not at Oklahoma.
Schnelly built football programs at Louisville and Florida Atlantic. His 1983 Miami Hurricanes team upset supposedly unbeatable Nebraska (you know that Husker team with Turner Gill, Mike Rozier and Irving Fryar) to win the national championship.
Howard won 158 college football games, one more than Barry Switzer (if you believe Wikipedia), and had a 6-0 bowl record.
Howard even was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts for one season in the early seventies.
He was mentored by legends of the profession like Paul “Bear” Bryant, George Allen and Don Shula. You cannot discount Schnellenberger’s resume. It’s impressive.
However, there’s no doubt about it, Howard was a flat-out disaster at Oklahoma.
Oh, it was fun while it lasted. And it was over in a flash.
Schnellenberger’s baritone voice, signature pipe, clip-on suspenders, and boundless ego made him extremely fun for the media to cover.
Howard just made mistake after mistake that eventually got him booted from his job almost as quickly as he got to Norman.
Let’s recount a few…
*Howard criticized the Sooners from the press box at the 1994 Copper Bowl while Gary Gibbs was still the coach, calling them “woefully out of shape and a disgrace to the Oklahoma football tradition.”
*He told radio colleagues of mine that OU had never won a national title “without cheating.”
*He said “books and movies would be written” about his era of OU football
*He allegedly denied players abundant water breaks during August practices, which resulted in a lawsuit from former Sooner player Brian Ailey (later thrown out by a federal judge).
*He changed the uniforms
*He compared the OU-Texas rivalry to Harvard versus Yale.
None of these things went over well with the “Sooner Nation,” a term that he so proudly created.
Howard’s OU team got off to a fast start, going 3-0 and ranked in the top ten before being blown out 38-17 by a Colorado team with backup QB John Hessler throwing five TD passes in a nationally televised matchup on ESPN.
This was after Schnellenberger went on GameDay that morning and proclaimed the Sooners would “kick their ass” no matter who was playing QB for the Buffs (it was rumored then injured starter Koy Detmer might play).
His press conferences were always pure entertainment.
Howard’s first postgame presser began with the opening line (in full baritone) “I’ve always said the first olive out of the jar was the toughest.”
Schnelly loved to use football and war analogies.
“We’ll fight the battle again.”
“The team that wins always displays the most valor and courage.”
“You can’t let a receiver get behind enemy lines.”
Howard’s team cratered over the second half of the season, tying Texas, losing to Kansas, and getting shutout 12-0 by Oklahoma State in Norman.
The final result, 5-5-1.
That was enough to get Howard jettisoned from Norman after one tumultuous season by David Boren.
The record wasn’t good enough, but rumors of a way to close relationship with Jim Beam, and a pending lawsuit didn’t help.
Howard had to go.
Boren was swift and decisive, cutting the Howard era short after just eleven games.
No other Sooner coach has come close to providing the comic value that Howard did. Sure, Barry Switzer was entertaining and extremely charismatic, but no one matches Howard for sheer buffoonery.
Schnellenberger was a seriously good coach, but his time in Norman was a comedy of errors. A total joke.
The perfect movie title for the Schnelly era (error?) in Norman is definitely “Pipe Fiction.”
However, it was such an entertaining show it’s one I like to relive over and over again.
Just like I always go back to “Blazing Saddles” or “Caddyshack” for a good laugh.