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Schnellenberger ready for UM-FAU surprise, addresses decline of UM; Dolphins chatter; Dolphins add Gray; Dan Jennings update

WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Howard Schnellenberger says it will be “bittersweet” when the school he led to a national title walks past the statue of his likeness, then onto Howard Schnellenberger Field, in Boca Raton on Friday night --- marking the first time that UM plays in the FAU stadium he worked tirelessly to build as the program’s coach and architect.

FAU is 0-15 against teams from power five conferences since 2008 --- with an average margin of defeat of 35 points --- but Schnellenberger insists the 16-point underdog Owls have a decent chance to win this game, two years after UM drubbed FAU 34-6 at Sun Life Stadium.

“I watched UM in their spring game and then I watched FAU in our stadium and after I looked at both, I said, ‘Geez, there’s not much difference between these teams,’” said Schnellenberger, who now works as an “ambassador at large” for FAU.

“We have a quarterback in his fourth year that’s a winner. And our team is better than a year ago,” he added. “This will be a pretty close to even game. Wouldn’t it be something if we won by one point?”

Schnellenberger, 81, led UM to its first of five national titles and went 41-16 as Hurricanes coach from 1979 to 1983. Nearly two decades later, he launched and coached FAU’s program, going 58-74, winning two bowl games and advancing to an FCS playoff semifinal before retiring after 2011.

There’s no question about his rooting interest on Friday.

“I’m pulling for the team that’s paying me,” he said of an FAU job that mostly involves fund-raising and giving speeches. “That doesn’t take anything away from my feelings for Miami. For this game, my heart and soul are involved with this [FAU] team.

“I’m fulfilling my promise to [wife] Beverly. When I took this job here I promised we would win a national championship in my lifetime. I haven’t been able to get that done. I can still help make that promise come true. This is big game for us.”

Friday’s matchup was the type of game Schnellenberger dreamed of hosting when he helped raise $70 million to build this 29,412-seat stadium --- which was completed in 2011 and is the only college football facility that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Friday’s game is a sellout, with UM selling its allotment of 4200 tickets.

A full house will be quite a change for FAU, which averaged just 14,122 fans last season, ranking 121st of 129 schools. (UM was 40th at 52,518 and FIU 127th at 11,966.)

So can this FAU team draw fans?

"Just wait until we beat Miami,” he said. “That will answer your question. Remember, this is South Florida. The Dolphins didn’t have enough people to start a fist fight when Don Shula got down there. We will be the lone wolf on Friday night.”

The only other college football game on TV Friday will be a nondescript Utah-Utah State matchup on ESPN2, airing opposite UM-FAU on Fox Sports 1.

Schnellenberger tried to persuade UM to play FAU years ago --- he called coach Larry Coker directly --- “but the answer was a flat no because I didn’t have a big enough stadium. They had no interest in playing us.”

But once FAU moved from Lockhart Stadium to its own facility, UM was willing to schedule a three-game series with two games at Sun Life.  

Former UM president “Donna Shalala and our [former] president [Mary Jane] Saunders, two women, got together and said we ought to have a game and it came to pass,” Schnellenberger said.

UM asked FAU if it would be interested in moving this year’s game to Sun Life to accommodate more fans, but FAU declined.

“Of course not,” Schnellenberger said. “You are getting two home games. You are going to play the damn game in our stadium.”

FAU athletic director Patrick Chun said no thought was given to moving this game to Sun Life because “we want to deliver the college football experience to our students, faculty, staff and fans in FAU Stadium. There is always a heightened level of excitement and anticipation for the home opener.

“Adding to this fever is the opportunity to play host to a respected opponent. Ultimately we are creating an event like none other in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County.”

Schnellenberger, who likes Al Golden as a coach, believes UM will be very good again soon but “I don’t know if they can do it in a year. They can make progress this year.”

Why has the program fallen off?

“All the crap with the NCAA and the bad decisions they made with their coaches,” he said. “Worst thing they ever did was let Larry Coker go. That threw the whole program in a tailspin and they didn’t hire the right coach. 

“Randy Shannon is a good young man but didn’t have nearly enough experience to handle that program. Golden has been a yeoman handling all the NCAA stuff.”

CHATTER

### Dan Jennings, aware that he’s not being retained as manager, hasn’t told the Marlins if he will accept an offer to return to the general manager job after the season, according to people close to the situation.

The Marlins expect he will return to that GM position unless an enticing job with final personnel authority is offered to him elsewhere. Jennings had been mentioned as one of numerous possibilities for the Seattle GM job.

In Miami, the GM is second in the baseball hierarchy behind the president of baseball operations (Michael Hill). And owner Jeffrey Loria obviously has say in every important baseball decision.

Even though Jennings would have been happy to continue as manager, the Marlins want to instead hire an experienced one from a long list of potential candidates.

In his press briefings in the past few days, Jennings has declined to discuss his future or say whether he would be happy returning to the GM role.

### Jonas Gray, added to the Dolphins' practice squad today, might be the Dolphins' second-best running back, but agent Sean Stellato said the team gave him no indication if or when he would be promoted to the 53-man roster. Any team can pluck Gray off the practice squad and put him on its 53-man roster at any time.

Damien Williams and LaMike James are the backup running backs on the Dolphins' roster, behind Lamar Miller. Jay Ajayi isn't eligible to return until game eight (week nine), according to short-term IR rules.

"Miami was the first place that gave Jonas an opportunity and he feels comfortable with the organization," Stellato said.

He said Tennessee was impressed by Gray during his visit there today but the Titans want to see what they have at running back before making a roster move at the position.

Gray ran for 412 yards on 89 carries (4.6 average) and five touchdowns last season for the New England Patriots, who surprisingly cut him over the weekend. He had 201 yards in a Sunday night game against the Colts last season but generated only 33 yards on 12 carries in preseason.

### Both Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason independently rated the Dolphins the fourth-best team in the AFC in a segment on Showtime's Inside the NFL tonight.

"Ryan Tannehill has gotten better every year. This is a breakout year for him," Esiason said.

Both analysts had New England and Denver in their top three. Simms surprisingly omitted the Colts from his top five, citing their lack of a pass rush; he had the Ravens third and Steelers fifth.

### Center Mike Pouncey, a two-time Pro Bowler, speaking about his move back to center after a season at guard: “Pro Bowls are not good enough any more for me. I want to be All-Pro. It’s something I’ve never done in my career.”

### Extra points are about to become more exciting, Dolphins fans.

Besides the fact they’re 10 yards longer than past years (33 yards, instead of 23), keep in mind that rookie Andrew Franks missed eight of 123 PATs in college at RPI. But the Dolphins say Franks is a much better kicker than the one who struggled with consistency in college.

As The Finsiders' Greg Likens noted, this is the first time in Dolphins history that the team is going with a rookie kicker and rookie punter. 

Please see the last post to see what Pat Riley said on The Dan Le Batard Show today... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

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