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What If Wednesday: What If Howard Schnellenberger Never Came To Miami?

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Possibly the greatest “what if” of them all, the man who saved the University of Miami football program.

NCAA Football: Miami Beach Bowl-Western Kentucky vs South Florida Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Wednesday again, that special time of week has reached us, and you know that means, it’s time for “What If Wednesday.” Every week, I take your guys’ suggestions and dive into the history of the Miami Hurricanes, look at different outcomes to losses, coaching decisions as well as injuries.

This week, we’re looking at a scenario that I’ve been waiting to do since I started this series, and I’m finally getting around to it. Today, we’re going to look at the legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, the Godfather of UM football.

We love Howard, and recognize him as the savior of Hurricane football. While his departure from the program after winning the 1983 National Championship is talked about a lot, I'm going to take another angle at that whole situation. Today, we’re going to look at what if Schnellenberger never even came to Miami in the first place? To understand what Howard built at UM, it’s important to understand what he saved it from as well.

So, let’s dive in!

Schnellenberger came to Coral Gables in 1979 with an impressive resume, taking over for Lou Saban, and found that Miami’s program was in shambles. Before Howard arrived, UM had gone through four head coaches just since 1970. During that decade in the 70’s, the Hurricanes compiled just two winning seasons, never amassing more than six victories.

There were fiscal problems, talks of demoting the football program to Division 1-AA, and even discussion of dropping the team all together. So, is it possible that if Howard didn’t take the job, that Miami’s football program wouldn't be anything more than a distant memory for our grandfathers to talk about?

So when looking at the “what if” in this situation, this tops them all, the team being dropped all together. At that point in Miami’s history, Schnellenberger was really the programs last chance at building anything. I feel completely confident saying that the Hurricanes would have zero national championships if Howard never took the job at UM.

Another thing to think about is recruiting. Schnellenberger’s big pitch was creating the “State of Miami,” and spending most of their time recruiting kids from South Florida. Howard understood that the best collection of high school talent was in UM’s backyard, and that if was able to keep those players home, Miami could really be a force. Before that, Lou Saban and other coaches would go anywhere but Dade County to recruit kids to come play for Miami.

Think about guys like Alonzo Highsmith, Melvin Bratton, Winston Moss, players who put the Canes on the map, but would they still have chosen Miami if Howard wasn’t there? Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly calls Schnellenberger’s arrival to Miami as a “godsend.” Joe Paterno tried to get Kelly to come to play linebacker at Penn State, until Howard convinced Jim otherwise. Where would Bernie Kosar be if Schnellenberger hadn’t recruited him?

The 1984 recruiting class is often thought of as perhaps the finest in the history of the program. Michael Irvin, Bennie Blades, Randy Shannon, all were recruited by Howard.

Oh, and another thing. If Howard never came to Miami, we would’ve never had “The U.” I’m not talking about the nickname, I'm literally talking about the U on the side of Miami’s helmet. Schnellenberger saw what the U could become, a brand, and decided to make it more recognizable.

This truly is the greatest “what if” scenario in the history of the University of Miami, because if Howard doesn’t come here to coach, then we have nothing. I know guys like Lavell Edwards were in talks of possibly coming to Miami at the time, but do you really think he would’ve been the guy to save the program? I don't think so at least, and we can only be forever grateful that Schnellenberger came to Miami when he did. Writing about Howard’s “what if” scenarios was different than the other ones I’ve done, because he literally is Hurricanes football. The program that we know today, the five national championships, everything we know and love about the U, wouldn’t be here. So everyday, we should thank the man with the pipe for what he did.