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I recommend The Perfect Pass book by S.C. Gwynne

Posted by John Reed on

If you pay any attention to NCAA football, you know that some teams have thrown one hell of a lot of passes in recent years. It’s called the “Air Raid” offense. Two guys were mainly behind that: Hal Mumme and Rick Leach. Leach never played college football. He was a lawyer. He just helped revolutionize it.

I knew Hal and Rick. I was a columnist on Football Clock Management for a new magazine called American Football Quarterly in 1998 and 1999. My book Football Clock Management came out in 1997.

Football Clock Management book

AFQ had two conventions. I was a speaker at both. So were Hal and Rick. We had a speakers room in the hotel after all the sessions each night where I got to talk to them and to Bill Walsh, Mike Nolan, Brian Billick, and many other college and pro coaches.

I got a big laugh out of Hal once. I told him how I received an envelope from the Washington State football coaches. All that was in it was leaf from a tree. A real leaf. What was that about?

Their quarterback was Ryan Leaf and they thought somehow that my receiving a tree leaf would increase the chances that I would vote for Leaf for the Heisman. I was a member of the Football Writers Association and that is who selects the Heisman winner. But I was too junior to ever vote. 

“I would rather you had done that than Washington State,” I told Mumme.

Kentucky head coach Mumme’s quarterback that year was Tim Couch.

Neither Couch nor Leaf won the Heisman, but Couch did get picked number one overall in the 1999 NFL draft. This book sort of explains why.

When my clock book came out, Hal gave me a testimonial that you can see at that web page of mine. He said, “Every coach should read this book.”

When my book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense came out, I sent a copy to Leach. There is a quote on the cover from Robert Frost: “I took the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” A couple of weeks later, he was quoted saying that in Sports Illustrated.

The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense book

Mumme and Leach started at a tiny losing college team called Iowa Wesleyan. Their record was mixed there but they had spectacular success eventually. Then they got fired. Sounded in the book as if it was because the football team was getting more attention than the president of the college.

They used a blistering speed no-huddle. I did, too, with my youth team. I called mine the warp-speed no huddle. Sports writers later used that name to describe Oregon’s no-huddle. I do not think Oregon or Mumme got the tempo from me. Nor did I get it from them. Rather, it was a case of great minds running in the same channel. I did it in 1992. Oregon was much later.

You can read details of my warp speed no-huddle at

Mumme was a big fan of the BYU offense under coach Lavell Edwards. He went to BYU repeatedly to see how they coached it.

Mumme and Leach later coached at Valdosta State and Kentucky. Leach went on to be the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, Then he was head coach at Texas Tech. He is now at Washington State—Ryan Leaf’s school.

The book is about the innovation of the Air Raid offense. My Contrarian book is also about innovation as well as reincarnating forgotten offenses and using the principles of ju jitsu, that is, using the opponent’s strength against them.

The book talks a lot about Tiger Ellison’s run and shoot offense. I have also written a lot about that offense. Mouse Davis made that famous.

The BYU contribution was to have an extremely simple offense that the team repped endlessly in the most minute detail. Few plays, many reps of each. Most teams have many plays and few reps of each. BYU tried to out-execute you. Most teams tried to out-scheme you.

They were also big on stretching the defense horizontally as opposed to stretching it vertically, an idea that had long been around.

The quick screen thrown out wide was part of the Air Raid. I remember Harvard running that over and over against my son’s Columbia team in the early 2000s. They stopped in the second half. I later told Harvard head coach Tim Murphy that I don’t think Columbia would have figured out how to stop it even after half time. I think you need to go to man coverage. Columbia was in zone and always outnumbered on that play.

One incident reveals the detailed nature of football play design. Mumme was having trouble getting one BYU play to work. He was having receivers cross at 8 to 9 yards. The BYU coaching staff was vague when asked what he was doing wrong. Then he had a chance to ask Robbie Bosco, a former BYU quarterback. “It’s always six yards,” Bosco said. That fixed it.

The book talks about always running the same formation so that, for example, your tight end is always on the left. I did that one year with my freshman team at Monte Vista High School. I wanted to simplify my blocking. By keeping the TE on the left all season, my line only needed to learn either the strong side or only the weakside blocking.

We were in twins left when the ball was on the left hash or the middle of the field. When the ball was to the right of the middle of the field, we went to pro left. We did not call it. We taught the players to move to the correct formation solely based on where the ref placed the ball. The reason for the change was twins left put a split end and slot out wide on the right.  But when the ball was on the right side of the field, there was not enough room for two wide receivers on the right side. So we used pro left then. That had a split end on the right but the slot instead became a flanker on the left side. Is seemed to work pretty well.

We thus chose to be a “left-handed” offense because that was more contrarian. Most teams are “right handed” so that was what the defense was used to. We wanted to run an offense that they were not used to.

The Perfect Pass is one of the best books about the details of a major football innovation. I highly recommend it. You may also enjoy my Contrarian Edge for Football Offense, which discusses innovation more comprehensively and broadly.

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  • While Rick Leach pitched for the San Francisco Giants (among others) 30-plus years ago, the late football coach was named Mike Leach.

    Jackie DeLister on

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