Remembering the man who ‘saved Miami football’

By Maya Bell

Remembering the man who ‘saved Miami football’

By Maya Bell
Former executive vice president John L. Green Jr., who helped launch the University’s football dynasty with two key coaching hires, passed away this month.

In the late 1970s, amid serious financial troubles and a dispiriting decade of losses on the gridiron, there was serious talk at the University of Miami of dropping Hurricanes football. 

But John L. Green Jr., who served as chief financial officer and the equivalent of chief operating officer and oversaw athletics at the time, was confident the U could run a successful football program with the right coach. His 1977 hiring of Lou Saban, who instituted Miami’s recruiting network, and Howard Schnellenberger, who in 1983 delivered the first of the U’s five national championships, proved Green’s point and set the stage for a new football dynasty. 

Green, who left the University in 1979 to continue a distinguished career in higher education, died in Kansas on Jan. 5 at age 91. Yet his family said the “rebirth” of Hurricanes football remained one of his proudest accomplishments, a legacy he earned with his vision and determination during his six-year tenure. 

“I can validate his claim,” said Chuck Cobb, former chair of the Board of Trustees who noted that, under then-President Henry King Stanford’s administration, Green oversaw athletics at an opportune period. “The University was going through very difficult financial straits at the time and many UM administrators and trustees were of the opinion that UM, as a private university, could not compete in big time football and were proposing we not try,” Cobb recalled. “But John Green thought we could make it work financially if we had a top coach, and he first hired Lou Saban and then Howard Schnellenberger.” 

“He literally saved Miami football,’’ added Green’s successor, David A. Lieberman, who served as senior vice president for business and finance for 28 years. “The Faculty Senate was very critical of the money being put into athletics, but football was a strategic marketing tool, and he thought it could be operated at an acceptable level of subsidy if he hired an outstanding coach who could deliver results. When Saban left for West Point after two years, he hired Schnellenberger, the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, and the rest is history.”

Over four decades, Green forged his own storied career in executive academia, which started as a vice president at the University of Georgia in 1968 and culminated with the presidency of Washburn University from 1981-1989. During his tenure there, the men’s basketball team won the 1987 NAIA national championship. 

After leaving Washburn, Green turned his attention to entrepreneurial endeavors and founded two accreditation bodies for higher education—the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs in 1989 and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education in 1997.  

Throughout his career, he also served as consultant to numerous institutions and authored or co-authored seven books, including his final 2019 publication, “Strategic Planning and Innovation.” 

Green, who was born in New Jersey and grew up in Kansas City and Topeka, served in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division during the Korean War. He held a Ph.D. in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he also served as vice president. He earned a master’s degree from Wayne State University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Mississippi State University. He is listed in Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, and Who’s Who in Higher Education.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Harriet; his son, Jay Green; two granddaughters, Lindsay and Emma Green; and brother Kenneth Green.