Schnellenberger returns to coaching fold; best ground troops

The University of Louisville has done its bit to fight unemployment by hiring an out-of-work coach with the instructions, ''Play it again, Howard.'' The Cardinals were understandably thrilled to get Howard Schnellenberger's signature on the dotted line. Just a year ago he was the talk of the country, the affable mastermind who took the University of Miami to a national championship. The school and city were in love with him, but then he made a bold decision that backfired, taking a job with a United States Football League franchise that was supposed to move to Florida, yet never made it.

So Schnellenberger sat out the '84 campaign, waiting for the right offer. Having spent his high school years in Louisville and been an All-American at the University of Kentucky, he found the chance to rebuild a program in the Bluegrass State appealing. ''Very few coaches in their lifetime get to take Cinderella to the ball twice,'' he said. ''I've been there once and I think I have the oppportunity to do it here again.'' As an incentive to see the job through, the university has reportedly offered him a big bonus if he stays 10 years.

He inherits a 2-9 team, but one that hinted at its potential when it upset Cotton Bowl-bound Houston.

One of his biggest challenges will be to generate interest at what is primarily known as a basketball school. Of course, the University of Kentucky has long had a similar reputation, but now Coach Jerry Claiborne has revived the Wildcat football team, which is heading to the Hall of Fame Bowl with an 8-3 record.

The football programs at both schools would do themselves and local fans a favor, however, by restoring their gridiron rivalry, which has been dormant since 1924.

Random thoughts, observations

* By playing Texas Christian in the Bluebonnet Bowl Dec. 31, West Virginia risks ending what began as a promising season with four straight losses.

* Can college football's Humpty Dumpty be put back together again? That looms as the major question during an important powwow of conference commissioners and other officials in Dallas this week. Humpty in this case is the bargaining power the National Collegiate Athletic Association once held in the negotiation of lucrative TV contracts for its collective membership. A Supreme Court ruling changed all that this past season, though, enabling individual schools and groups of schools to strike their own television deals. The result was a bonanza for certain teams popular enough to make repeated appearances, but meant considerably less revenue overall - reportedly half as much as was earned under the NCAA package. Obviously there is greater strength and leverage in numbers, so a TV coalition may grow out of the Dallas talks. If it does, care must be taken to comply with antitrust laws that led to Humpty's dumping in the first place.

* The mention of Army conjures up visions of land forces, and appropriately enough West Point had this season's top ground attack. But the nation's next best rushing game belonged to Air Force, a name that by all rights should connote airborne maneuvers. Interestingly, however, it was the Falcons' success with the wishbone that inspired the Cadets to switch to an option offense this year.

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