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The History of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls Football
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) doesn’t have a long football tradition. Unlike its in-state rivals, the Miami Hurricanes, Florida State Seminoles, and Florida Gators, FAU’s football program is newer. The Owls didn’t begin playing football until 2001 after a football program was finally established at the university.
The state of Florida created FAU in 1961, but it took 40 years for the university to play its first-ever football game. Located in Boca Raton, FAU’s group of students on campus totaled 867 when its doors opened.
Today, FAU boasts more than 30,000 students and a staff of over 1,500. Growth came slowly to FAU, with sports programs added over time. The FAU football program was one of the more recent additions, and it hasn’t looked back since arriving on campus.
FAU Owls Kick-Off For the First Time
In the lead-up to kicking off the 2001 campaign, FAU’s football program went into overdrive in the fall of 2000. The school hired former Miami Hurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger to lead the program out of the gates. Miami’s rise to become a prominent NCAA football powerhouse started with Schnellenberger as head coach in the late 1970s. FAU surely hoped the experienced coach could start the program off on the right foot and establish the Owls in the NCAA.
Schnellenberger had been out of football for a few years when he took the reins of FAU. After coaching the Oklahoma Sooners during the 1995 season, he resigned from the team and focused on work in the financial world. The call of NCAA football was too strong for Schnellenberger, however. The chance to lead a team from the start and work outside the limelight of major NCAA college football was appealing.
He began work on the FAU football program long before the team kicked off its first season in 2001. Schnellenberger joined the school in 1998 with the task of building the school’s first-ever football team. He created a plan and raised funding to build the team from the ground up. Schnellenberger was originally the director of football operations and wasn’t expected to move into the head coach's role. However, the job appealed to him, especially after working on the program from day No 1. Schnellenberger wasn’t ready to hand the reins off to another college football coach.
Early Struggles, Yield Success.
The FAU Owls did not start life well. The team had 160 walk-ons in 2000 when practice began. The team would later lose 40-7 in their first-ever game against Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University. The Owls played their first four years of college football in I-AA. In 2005, the team made the jump up to I-A, thanks to an improvement in recruiting and a larger player pool to choose from.
Schnellenberger had rebuilt both the University of Miami and the University of Louisville football programs before setting foot in Boca Raton. His work with those schools had initially led FAU to hire him. Schnellenberger knew the only way to get FAU into I-A football and to compete against major programs was to play against the best competition possible from the start.
After two below .500 seasons, FAU posted an 11-3 record and reached the NCAA I-AA playoff semifinals. The shift to I-A football didn’t stop the Owls from their upward trajectory. In 2007, now a member of the Sun Belt Conference, FAU qualified for its first bowl game, the New Orleans Bowl, which it won 44-27 over the Memphis Tigers. FAU won the Motor City Bowl the following season, defeating Central Michigan 24-21. Schnellenberger was two for two in bowl games with the Owls.
A Decline and Schnellenberger Leaves
The Owls experienced a decline in wins over the next few seasons and in 2011, Schnellenberger stepped down. Results on the field didn’t improve until the arrival of Lane Kiffin in 2017. Kiffin, who had already worked for major programs including Tennesse and Alabama, and had worked with the NFL’s Raiders, led the Owls to an 11-3 season. FAU went on to win the Boca Raton Bowl, beating the Akron Zips 50-3. By this time, the Owls were in Conference USA, competing against stronger teams than in the Sun Belt Conference.
Kiffin posted another 11-3 record in 2019 but left the program before the team’s Boca Raton Bowl win over the SMU Mustangs. Willie Taggart took over the team in 2020 but struggled for consistency. FAU would win five games in each of the next three college football campaigns. Taggart was fired before the end of the 2022 season, as FAU finished 5-7.
FAU hired former Houston Cougars and Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman in December 2022 to lead the program forward. In addition to adding Herman as the new head coach, the Owls moved from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference. The conference includes the University of Central Florida, Houston, Cincinnati, South Florida, and Tulane, to name a few.
Schnellenberger’s Legacy at FAU
Howard Shnellenberger not only created the FAU football program, but he also led the team on the field from 2001 to 2011. FAU won its first bowl game under the veteran head coach’s leadership. The same year Schnelleberger retired from coaching, FAU opened its brand-new football stadium.
The Owls had previously played at different venues in South Florida, including Pro Player Stadium (2001 to 2002) and Lockhart Stadium (2003 to 2010). FAU Stadium holds a capacity of 29,571 fans. The field has a natural grass surface, perfect for playing football. FAU Stadium has also hosted other events, including high-profile soccer matches between the United States women’s national team and Russia, and the United States men’s national team versus Honduras. The venue began hosting the Boca Raton Bowl in 2014.
In August 2014, FAU named the playing surface the Howard Schnellenberger Field in homage to the man that created the Owls football program. Sadly, Schnellenberger passed away in March 2021 at the age of 87.
Transportation to FAU Football Games
East Coast Limousine, with the most diverse fleet of vehicles in South Florida offers charter bus rental to Florida Atlantic University football games from facilities located in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
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