Bob Schnelker, offensive coordinator of the Packers’ explosive offenses of the early 1980s, died Monday in Naples, Fla., at age 88.
Schnelker served two stints as an assistant coach with the Packers: The first from 1966 to 1971, including two seasons under Vince Lombardi, and the other as offensive coordinator from 1982 to 1985.
During those four seasons, the Packers ranked 12th, 2nd, 6th and 12th in total yards with an offense featuring Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton, quarterback Lynn Dickey, an offensive line led by Packers Hall of Famers Larry McCarren and Greg Koch, and several other explosive weapons.
Schnelker was the Packers’ receivers coach when they won Super Bowls I and II. He served as offensive coordinator under Bart Starr for three seasons and Forrest Gregg for one. He also served under two other Packers head coaches, Phil Bengtson and Dan Devine.
In all, Schnelker spent 27 years as an NFL assistant after playing offensive end for nine pro seasons, five of them with the New York Giants when Lombardi was an offensive assistant there.“He’s the best,” Koch, who played mostly right tackle for the Packers from 1977 to 1985, said of Schnelker in 2002. “I’ve been around some brilliant guys. Frank Broyles was my head coach (at the University of Arkansas). Our offensive coordinator was Joe Gibbs (who later won three Super Bowls as head coach at Washington). Our defensive coordinator was Jimmy Johnson (who won two Super Bowls as head coach at Dallas). Schnelker is the smartest football guy I ever met.”
Despite cutting his teeth as a player and young NFL assistant in Lombardi’s power running game, Schnelker became an adherent of the vertical passing game once he had authority to install his own system.
When he took over the Packers’ offense in 1982, it had ranked in the bottom six of the league 10 times in 12 years and 23rd in the NFL the previous season. By 1983, his second year as coordinator, it had climbed to second. Moreover, the Packers scored 40 points or more in four games and more than 30 in two others.
While Schnelker’s offensive philosophy might have evolved over the years, his approach to dealing with players never changed much. In many ways, he was old-school from start to finish and a disciple of Lombardi.
“I remember Bob’s first conversation with me,” Dickey said in 2006. “I think it was probably Whitey (David Whitehurst) and me and I forget who else was there. Anyway, the quarterbacks were in the room and he said, ‘You guys have to be thick-skinned. I’m going to eat your (bleep). But forget about it. And within the next minute, I’ll have forgotten about it.’
“He wasn’t kidding. He’d say something to me and get on me and I’d think, ‘I’m doing the best I can out here.’ … That was what Bob Schnelker was all about. But everybody respected him because he took you from one spot to another in a hurry. We knew if we did what he told us, we were going to get better and better. He knew offensive football. And if there was one guy who hit a switch and made our offensive team go up another step, it was Bob Schnelker.”
Schnelker was considered for the Packers’ head coaching job when Devine was hired in 1971 and mentioned again as a possible candidate before Gregg was hired in 1984. And there were players who thought he would have been a good choice either time.
“Other than that he was kind of a radical guy, I thought Bob Schnelker was as good a coach as I ever played for,” the late Gale Gillingham, a guard for the Packers from 1966 to 1974 and again in 1976, said in 2002. “He had great ideas on how to attack. I don’t know much about the passing game. But as far as running the ball, he knew how to attack. I thought he was one hell of a coach.”
Kristina Pinkston, Schnelker’s daughter, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune her father died of complications from cancer, was survived by three grandchildren and a brother in addition to her, and services were pending.