Drafted in the 29th round — the 29th round! — of the NFL draft, Bob Schnelker built a nine-year playing career as a receiver and qualified for two Pro Bowls.
He coached for almost 30 years, spending his last four in the NFL as Jerry Burns’ offensive coordinator with the Vikings.
In 1987, Schnelker, who died at the age of 88 on Monday, featured the explosiveness of Anthony Carter while the Vikings beat New Orleans and the dynastic 49ers on the road in the playoffs before losing a close game to eventual Super Bowl champion Washington.
Schnelker enjoyed a long and eventful career. He also became a pioneer. He helped blaze the trail for offensive coordinators as blame receptacles.
On Nov. 5, 1989, the Vikings beat the Los Angeles Rams 23-21 at the Metrodome on their way to winning the division title, on the strength of seven field goals and a safety.
During the game, Vikings fans jeered Schnelker, particularly when the stadium scoreboard showed his face.
After the game, Burns foreshadowed the arrival of Chris Rock as a comedian who works blue.
Offensive coordinators had always existed, even if by different names. Every head coach employed an offensive guru or assistant, even if the head coach ran the offense and called the plays. The second-guessing of offensive play calls always existed as well.
But on that profane day in the Metrodome, the perceived importance and culpability of the offensive coordinator became highlighted, thanks to Burnsie’s greatest-ever rant — one that could be bleeped, edited and gleefully played on radio stations for decades.
The day may not have been a turning point for offensive coordinators, but it was a flashpoint. That day popularized the notion that if an offensive play call didn’t work, the coach should have called something else.
Burnsie’s rant became famous for its vulgarity, but, as with many of our best comedians, his swearing only punctuated indelible truths.
“The second-guessers are never wrong,’’ Burns said. “If you run and don’t make it, you should’ve passed. If you pass, you should’ve run.’’
I covered Schnelker in 1990, his last season with the Vikings. He was a quiet, polite man who wanted nothing to do with interviews. Given his history, that was understandable.
There is nothing wrong with assessing the decisionmaking of public figures, and the eventual results of those decisions, but the second-guessing aimed at offensive coordinators is a unique and often ridiculous subset of such instant analysis.
People who would never posit that the Vikings would have won had the defensive coordinator blitzed the strong safety through the A gap and dropped the weak-side linebacker into coverage on third-and-8 are quite comfortable positing that an end-around or deep pass would have produced a game-winning touchdown.
I criticized former offensive coordinator Norv Turner for his unwillingness to commit extra blockers to protect his quarterback when the offensive line was falling apart. From what I’ve heard, there were key people inside the organization who offered the same complaint.
I did not pretend that had Turner called pass plays every time a running play failed that the Vikings would have won more games.
Too often, offensive coordinators are praised or blamed based on the final score. I think current offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has done better work under the circumstances than did Turner, even though Turner was the coordinator when the team won its first five games. Shurmur has done more to protect the quarterback and rely on the short passing game than Turner did, and has given Sam Bradford a chance to survive into December.
Another former Vikings offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, became a modern-day Schnelker.
In 2012, he simultaneously enabled Christian Ponder to have his only good season and Adrian Peterson to have his best-ever season. When the team faltered in 2013, Musgrave became a punching bag and was fired. Today, with a talented quarterback, running back and receivers at his disposal, Musgrave is a key player in the Raiders’ rise.
And if the Raiders slump next year, Musgrave likely will be the first person blamed.
He should acquire a recording of Burnsie’s famous rant, and be prepared to play it when the time is right, in honor of the late Bob Schnelker.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org