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Schnellenberger says if UK makes coaching change it must not do same things it has done in the past


Howard Schnellenberger has one strong recommendation for the University of Kentucky if it does decide to make a coaching change. “If they do decide make change, they have to decide what they have done in the past will not get it done,” said Schnellenberger.

Kentucky fans certainly would agree with that based on the lack of consistent success UK has had in the Southeastern Conference. Schnellenberger is also someone who not only understands the UK program, but knows about success in difficult circumstances.

Schnellenberger, 78, is a Louisville native who earned All-American honors as an end at Kentucky in 1955. He worked two years under head coach Blanton Collier at UK. He also worked under his college coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, as an offensive coordinator at Alabama and helped the Crimson Tide win three national titles before leaving for the NFL. He guided Miami (Fla.) to the 1983 national championship and was head coach at Louisville from 1985-1994.  His 1991 team beat Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl. He left Louisville for Oklahoma and ended his coaching career by starting the program at Florida Atlantic before retiring at the end of last season.

“Miami was going to drop to Division I-AA before I got there and it was about the same way at Louisville,” Schnellenberger said. “Both were on their last gasp. They both called a timeout and tried to analyze what to do and who to bring in. In both cases, they brought in somebody that was bigger than the job. That’s one part of the equation at Kentucky. Bring in someone with a proven track record and has a reason for wanting the job. If you give me 20 minutes with a coaching candidate, I can convince him why Kentucky is a good job.”

What? Kentucky, a lower level SEC team, a good job for a big-name team?

“Kentucky has every natural resource you need to be good,” Schnellenberger said. “There should be no inferiority complex at Kentucky. If the university will focus its resources financially, spiritually and psychologically for the development of a great football program with the right guy in charge that brings a lot of confidence with him and a lot of public awareness to the university, then they have a chance to succeed.

“The worst thing that can happen to a program is going 4-8, 6-6, 5-7, maybe 7-5. Just good enough to every once in a while have a winning season. Those are the ones that limp along and there’s no way they will take the next leap up.”

Schnellenberger won’t buy the theory that Kentucky doesn’t produce enough Division I football players for the Cats to succeed. He noted that programs like West Virginia, Wisconsin and even Louisville face the same issues and win.

“Lexington is half a day’s drive from half the population in the United States. You just have to go out and get the kids. Louisville does that now and you can cherry pick from Chicago to Detroit to Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Atlanta to Memphis to Birmingham. They are all close enough to Kentucky to get kids to come if the right man is in charge,” Schnellenberger said.

What about facilities? Kentucky’s are not the equal to many in the SEC.

“Bull—-. Facilities are the last thing you need. At Miami we had the worst facilities of any top 100 team in the country and we won the national championship. At Louisville, look at where we were before they got Papa John’s (Cardinal) Stadium and we beat Alabama,” Schnellenberger said. “People make the difference. Kentucky is in the greatest conference in the world. It’s people that make a difference because you have the schedule to sell. But it is not just coaching. It takes the president, board of trustees, donors. They all have to be on board. They all have to get together and see what they want.”

So how would Schnellenberger sell a top coach on coming to Kentucky?

“First, you are in the most productive, financially sound conference in all of them. The university is an outstanding academic institution. You are sitting in a great geographical area. And you are fortified by the best basketball team in America.”

What? Are you saying Kentucky basketball helps Kentucky football rather than hurts it as many always claim?

“At Louisville, I used the basketball program. Can you imagine bringing football players in from Florida and bringing them into Rupp Arena on any given game and see the pageantry and excitement and all that. That is a recruiting opportunity that is unprecedented. Only a few schools have that kind of stage. You have all kinds of stuff going at Kentucky.”

Except maybe the perception of UK football.

“Most people think Kentucky is about like Vanderbilt, Tulane. Maybe not quite like Georgia Tech,” Schnellenberger admitted. “Middle to lower division of SEC at best.”

With social media that makes it easy to stay in touch with family members and faster travel, Schnellenberger says “any school in America has a legitimate chance to be the best team in America.”

Including Kentucky?

“I don’t see a drawback at all except the psychology of the university and the attitude toward football,” the former coach said. “It’s not hard to change. You have got to have leadership at the top. A couple of pied pipers and a music man. You can develop that.”


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  1. Juan4UK

    I absolutely agree with him. Except for the facilities. I believe they have become more important. Stadium upgrades are for fans and donors. I’m talking about eye popping weight training area’s and so forth. Anything the recruits use and see. Which UK has been working on tirelessly the last several years. So that’s a work in progress, but I think they still need a new up graded weight training area. I see the videos of LSU and Alabama and Florida. and know that we could have done better there.
    I do believe that Ky has the fans and fan support for a winning program. But people seem to over look the loyal support for decades our fans have given and still kept in the top 30 in attendance. It is painful for a family to see the things we have seen over and over and over. Give them something to cheer about.
    I know the fans are there, people need to remember the fan support at the Outback bowl vs Penn St to be reminded of Kentucky fans and their team!!

  2. oldblackhightops

    Preach on Brother Howard!

    1. Mark S.

      Put Howard on the search committee!

      1. Gary

        AMEN! No wonder he was such a successful coach. Why did UK not hire him as the head man?

    2. DACats86

      Howard for AD!!!!

  3. Anonymous

    Great idea to speak with him Larry. How about an interview with Bill Snyder or the AD from the 90’s who helped build the program there?

  4. Ira

    The fans have always been there, the AD, admin, and the BOT all have been accustomed to it. When Rich Brooks left the program for greener pastures and our current HC took over and took this current slide, the fans signaled we are no longer interested at all in the current state of affair or willing to having any truck with it.

    The problem being it caught the AD and the BOT flat footed. They hoped they could just ride it and this has not proven the case. To much resentment, to much carelessness over the program has built up over the years and with Brooks showing what could be done at UK, fans are not standing for this backward slide into these losing seasons again.

    I say get rid of Mitch Barnhart and let him take his golden parachute, and hire Schnellenberger for AD.


    The UK President needs to bring Howard to UK for a while. Maybe not to coach, but to advise and pick his brain.

    As far as UK’s facilities, they aren’t exactly garbage, but what I’ve seen on the various coaches shows…they are fantastic. A place can only need/use so many sets of weights right?

    1. larryvaught

      would love for UK to ask Howard for advice on what could or should be done

  6. KY1WING

    UK will never get to the point of considering shutting big time football down which is what it takes to do the soul searching and commitment Coach speaks of.

    Add WKU to that list of schools who had to make the hard decision and look where they are.

    Shy of that, hire Howard. He knows exactly what it takes to turn it around and make UK a relevant FB program.

  7. Jeff

    I think we should listen to Schnellenber based on his past successes and as a great UK football alum! I said a week ago that he should be involved in the search for the future of UK’s football program.

  8. Jeff

    Sorry for the type – Schnellenberger

  9. Will

    Howard was wronged by past leadership at UK, and still, it’s obvious his love for UK shines on. His wisdom needs to be involved with this search.

  10. Gary

    I get so tired of hearing about how great Brooks was. Did I miss something? How many SEC wins /losses did he have? SEC championships? Albeit, he was a players coach and a real nice guy but the only reason he went to several “toilet bowls” was because of the additional game(say cupcake) allowed by the NCAA. We’d better hire
    a coach by Howard because a ninth SEC game is coming, Louisville will disappear from the schedule and the possibility of a winning season will be history!

    1. UKFAN197TONE

      Apparently you did. Look, Coach Brooks and his staff gave “life” to a sanctioned team. Gave “life” to a fanbase that had some hope of a good football team. Some of those teams were good football teams. NOT GREAT. However, they were more exciting, tougher and played with heart. What you are saying is a smack in the face to those players that could have went elsewere, but didn’t, they played their hearts out for UK and the fans.

      So what the schedule had “cupcakes”, every team in the country schedules those types of games. UK STILL had to win them did they not?

  11. jauk11

    Great interview, and very impressed with Howard—for a long time now. The man is a winner, and he is one of our own, I forgive him for growing up in Louisville since he came to UK.

    He is exactly right, and he would have been here IF the UK AD had given him some of the things he knew were necessary to succeed at UK. Everyone reviles Curry, but the AD told him who he could hire as assistants and limited him otherwise. He IMPROVED both Georgia Tech and Bama each year, and BOTH won NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS three years after he left, obviously the players he left had to have had a great deal to do with it. He was only run off from Bama because AUBURN was his ONLY loss his last year there, and he shared the SEC crown with them. Bama, the state where they poison magnificent trees if they are on the wrong campus.

    I do not think Joker or ANY UK football coach has been treated fairly by UK, probably since the Bear, maybe Curci, but he had to cheat to win, which (like Mumme) set us back dearly.

    Not only are some things NOT adequate, some are insults to our RECRUITS, coaches, AND fans. The “recruiting room” is exhibit A, and from what I know it is still being used, unless the coaches have enough sense to reserve the kiddie court at McDonald’s. There HAS to be a change in attitude at UK for ANY coach to have a chance for long term success, we HAVE had some great coaches fail here, a NFL winner and three NATIONAL COACHES OF THE YEAR..

    I sincerely believe mitch’s refusal to make ANY improvements to the “recruiting room” (spent $156K on some pictures from our archives, no Rembrandts, he will do it HIS way, same with donations) is his way of saying “screw you” to football fans, me in particular. The least he could do is donate some of his old chairs to replace the folding chairs.

    Great interview, hope we can get him involved in some way, hopefully as soon as mitch is fired. How is his $1.8 million (for an incompetent AD in the money sport, ridiculous) buyout structured, has it gone down any?

    Oh, he wrote up the contract himself, all Dr Todd had to do was sign it? Oh well, what would we expect.

  12. TrueBlueJohn

    If you can win in Manhattan, KS, you can win in Lexington, KY. It is the leadership that matters.

  13. grant

    What i glean from this is , i have heard people on here say that uk is geographically challenged for recruits, and his point of being a half a days drive from half the population in the u.s. is a great point by howard, and maybe that non sense will stop being brought up!

  14. RJ

    Unless I’ve misread all of these posts, I think a lot are missing the point. Schnellenberger is saying the the administration has to be “involved” with the football program, not just managers which is what they are today. You have to have football people in those slots and have them involved. Currently we just do not have that.

    1. larryvaught

      RJ, you and Schnellenberger think a lot alike

    2. Gene

      You’re absolutely correct RJ.
      Once the “football people” have been pushed aside and the program “managers” have taken over your program has lost it’s focus. Focus in that case is spelled w-i-n-n-i-n-g. !! It then becomes simply an exercise in economics, i.e. is it profitable and if so–by how much ??
      But should they need football people to re-focus the UK program they need look no furthur than right here, this blog or those like it. Experts galore, in every phase of the sport.
      What is the UK administration waiting on ???

  15. Mike Flannery

    IMO….The AD feels he is in a great position, he was just given a new long term contract by the “lame duck” President, he is basking in the success of Mike Pratt’s hire of Calipari and he is totally satisfied with a less than mediocre football program. He is not interested in hiring a new football Coach, he gambled on not firing Brooks, but, remember, Brooks had a solid but not fantastic coaching history, he took Oregon to the Rose Bowl and was National Coach of the Year at Oregon. Yes, Joker “bleeds blue” but, has only taken the program backwards……

  16. shinny

    It’s just a frigen shame that nobody has the courage to do something about the state of our football program. Support from the fans? Just look at the support shown for our bowl games except the Birmingham fiasco. We (Kentucky fans) love our FOOTBALL and for some reason the University could give a rats ass. I for one do not understand !!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. RJ

      Shinny. You’re right on the spot. But the explanation you seek is all around us. I don’t know how old you are and it doesn’t matter. Remember your the heroes in your youth. They were leaders, hands on people, involved people.

      We have trained an entire generation of managers – not leaders. You can see it all around you in the businesses that exist today, the education system, our political system. We do not teach, or reward, leadership in our schools because it may hurt little Johnny’s self esteem or it’s not fair to those incapable of leadership. In our colleges we teach how to move responsibility away from the individual to the group. We do not reward individual achievement. Instead we get group think.

      What is happening at UK is emblematic of what is happening across America. Leadership is difficult and it involves personal risk. Leadership is often offensive to those who do not aspire to leadership. And, sadly, leadership is envied and often driven away so as to placate our comfort zone.

      We can complain all we want but no one individual on this site can get the kind of leadership in the UK football program that is needed until Kentuckians, indeed society as a whole, starts to DEMAND leadership. Until then accept mediocre results because that is what we will get.

  17. grant

    Right Shinny, there is an uncultured pearl sitting in the middle of Lexington waiting for some love. Courage is what its gonna take to change the culture of UK football. I have said it before and i will say it again, if a goal is to achieve 6 wins just to make a watered down bowl then i do not want you.

  18. LindaS

    I don’t like Howard, never did and never will. I have my reasons and I will forever keep them to myself. If they want him they better grab him fast, he isn’t getting any younger.

  19. David Hopewell

    Larry! Look at this!!! And you said no one was interested in UK football now that basketball season has started and the football team was losing! These comments tell me there is still a LOT of interest in what’s happening with the football program!!! If we had an administration that would….______ you all can fill in the blanks! And looks like there is a pretty good start!

    Again Larry…from this you can say again…this is a football state too!

    Go Cats!

  20. TJ

    Howard nailed the BIGGEST problems with UK Football, IMHO. They are, but not limited to…


    “Focus it’s resources”

    “Attitude towards football”

    “But it is not just coaching. It takes the president, board of trustees, donors. They all have to be on board.”

    I somewhat disagree with him in regards to facilities. UK needs to at least stay fairly close to the rest of the SEC and ahead of UL in regards to facilities. Right now, I do not think that is necessarily the case.

    But, I do agree with Howard’s main point & that is… UK needs a brand new attitude towards football. PERIOD!!

  21. lee ann herring-olvedo

    All I can say is Amen! I couldn’t agree more with his reasoning I have been saying and writing this sentiment is we have to burn bridges and not make past mistakes. What is key though is changing the mentaility of football at UK to really be where we need to be. We have all the assests to be a strong program we just need to align it all and make it work for us instead of against us!

  22. Texascat

    Great piece Larry. I was at UK when we replaced Fran Curci. I loved what coach Claiborne did but there was a lot of fans that wanted coach Schnellenburger (me included). I’ve often wondered where we’d be today in football if he had been in Lexington instead of Miami & Louisville.

  23. Larry T Clemons

    I think a big obstacle is, ” We wanted Joker to be The Man ” and we are only Now, coming to the realization that , ” he is not “…

    1. larryvaught

      Larry T, well said

  24. KYfaninTX

    Good article.
    Question…why isn’t anyone asking the question where are all the Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors which would have been recruited by Joker and his staff; not only 3 years ago, but also when Joker was Offensive Coordinator ?
    Isn’t anyone tired of the answer, UK is a young team, starting so many Freshman ?
    Where did all the Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors go ?
    Reporters are letting UK Coaching staff get off too easy….

  25. KYfaninTX

    Tasks/actions for UK President to take on day 1 after UK game against TN.
    1. call Barnhardt into his office and fire him
    2. call Phillps into his office and fire him
    3. call Schnellenberger to ask if he would be a member of the UK football coach search committee

    1. larryvaught

      KyfaninTX, going to be interesting to see what happens or when

  26. Woodson Wood

    Schnellberger has and has had a great reputation for developing great football programs. However to develop great programs you must recruit great talent, and I would be surprised if there were not reservations at some of the stops Howie made that the recruiting was not as pure as Caeser’s wife. I would hazard a guess that there are more coaches and administrators with their knives out for the Kentucky basketball program that ever existed for any athletic program that ever existed. Our first concern must be that we don’t jeopardize our phnomenal basketball position to build up our football position

  27. KY fan Fla

    Schnellenberger should have been selected to coach at UK years ago. A no brainer.
    Still puzzled………At least bring him on as part od search committee…or hire him
    as coach!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. larryvaught

      Howard would be great addition to a search committee

  28. ccothran

    jauk11, Curry was run off from alabama because he pi$$ed 5 or 6 former players by kicking them out of his ‘closed’ practice. Very influential players. The pres was also trying to upgrade Alabama’s academic image. The Curry and presidents’ attitudes conflicted with the ‘influential’ players and alumni.

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