Bob Schnelker was an old-school tight end as a player in the NFL, but he incorporated modern-era big-play concepts in the passing game in his tenure as offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.
Schnelker, a two-time Pro Bowl tight end in a nine-year playing career with four teams, turned to coaching after his retirement after the 1961 season. Schnelker coached for seven teams in 27 years and spent four seasons with the Lions (1978-81) under the late head coach Monte Clark.
Schnelker passed away late last year at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 88.
Schnelker spent two tours with the Green Bay Packers and was on legendary Vince Lombardi’s staff from 1966-71, when the Packers won the first two Super Bowls.
In Detroit, Schnelker was one of the first assistant’s hired by Clark when he took over as head coach in 1978. The 1978 Lions started the season with a 1-6 record. They rallied to finish 7-9, and the passing game took off after Gary Danielson was made the starting quarterback.
Danielson threw 18 TD passes for the season, with 16 of them in the last nine games.
Under Schnelker, the focus of the offense would change through necessity and the talent available. That was a reflection of Schnelker’s ability to use the talent on hand.
The Lions slumped to 2-14 in 1979 when Danielson was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the last preseason game. The Lions rebounded to go 9-7 and 8-8 the next two years, finishing second in the old Central Division both years.
The 2-14 record in 1979 gave the Lions the first pick in the 1980 draft, and they used it to take running back Billy Sims, who’d won the 1978 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma and was runner-up to Southern Cal’s Charles White in 1979.
With Sims on board and playing behind a solid offensive line, Schnelker stressed the running game. The Lions were third in the league in rushing in 1980 with an average of 162.4 yards per game and No. 1 in 1981 with an average of 174.7.
Schnelker left the Lions after the 1981 season to return to Green Bay as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. His last stop was the Minnesota Vikings, where he was offensive coordinator from 1986-89 before retiring.