I’m sure by now you’ve seen the news that former University of Oklahoma football coach Howard Schnellenberger passed away this morning.
Schnellenberger coached OU for one unspectacular season in 1995, and was fired right after the 5-5-1 season ended.
By OU standards, it was a disaster.
Schnellenberger came to OU with decades of football success on his resume and the confidence of a Gen. Douglas MacArthur. It just didn’t translate to success with the Sooners.
Although I was just an outsider looking in that year, all I could see was a pompous old man who thought his mere presence would inspire success.
Then fate brought me together with Howard for one night in 1995.
I was working as a Business News reporter at the time for the Daily Oklahoman. One of my beats was writing about Oklahoma agriculture.
You might remember that the Oklahoma Farm Bureau made Schnellenberger their spokesman in an ad campaign in 1995. The ads appeared on Oklahoma TV stations and mainly featured Howard squinting into the distance as words described the value that the Farm Bureau brings its members.
Many folks thought Howard was an odd choice for the Farm Bureau. In fact, here’s something that Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel wrote back in ’95:
“Sudden thought: Why did the Oklahoma Farm Bureau select Howard Schnellenberger as its marketing spokesman? Aren’t most of those folks OSU graduates?”
But Schnellenberger’s most recent job before OU was that of football coach at the University of Louisville, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau at the time was a Kentucky native. So, there was a thin connection.
Then one day, out of the blue, my wife and I received an invitation from the Farm Bureau to attend a “media night” at Applewoods Restaurant. OU coach Howard Schnellenberger was the special guest speaker.
Paula and I loved Applewoods and its famous apple fritters, so of course we agreed to go.
Turns out, a local television reporter and I were the only “media” members at the dinner. And only about a dozen people total were at the Farm Bureau event.
Here’s all I remember about that night. Howard stood over our tables and droned on in a low monotone for about 30 minutes. I remember nothing about what he said.
My wife had an interesting experience, too. Howard’s wife, Beverlee, was with him and sort of latched on to Paula as her new best friend for the night. She never stopped talking.
I couldn’t wait for that painful evening now 26 years distant to be over.
And it wasn’t long before Schnellenberger’s tenure as OU coach was over, as well.
Rest in peace, Howard.
Bonus: Watch and read an oral history of Howard Schnellenberger at OU published by The Oklahoman in 2011.