Changing the way the game is played

Question?  Have you ever heard of Bellhaven University?  Chances are, unless you are a complete football junkie or just like irrelevant information (insert my name here), you haven’t.

But, when you watch college football this weekend or any weekend, then you are witness to the innovation that comes from the head coach at a small NCAA Division III school located in Jackson, Mississippi.  His name is Hal Mumme and his impact is all over the NCAA statistics this week.

First the back story.  A native of San Antonio, Texas like many people of his age, Mumme got his start coaching high school in his native Texas.  His first job was the offensive coordinator at Corpus Christi High School.  Mumme landed his first high school head coaching job at Aransas Pass, Texas.  He stepped into the college game at West Texas State University and from there became the offensive coordinator at the University of Texas-El Paso.  At the time UTEP was in the Western Athletic Conference with BYU.  Mumme had a front row seat to the innovative down field passing game perfected by BYU Head Coach Lavell Edwards and his offensive coordinator Norm Chow.  Mumme would tell Sports Illustrated in a profile a few years ago that he didn’t know what Edwards and Chow were doing at BYU but he wanted to be a part of it.

So at UTEP, Mumme developed the “Air Raid” offense and what Rich Rodriguez is to the “zone read” which has literally changed college football and football in general, Mumme is to the attack that annually lands the teams of his disciples at the top of passing offense in the NCAA.

The “Air Raid” isn’t rocket science.  It’s built on short to intermediate passes with plenty of shots down field.  I still contend that to win football consistently you have to run the football, but the Air Raid is largely responsible for sending offenses like the Wishbone,  and the single wing (which is older than Moses) to College Football’s grave yard.  Granted Georgia Tech, Navy, Army and Air Force still rely on the wishbone variation known as the “Flexbone”, but that works for them and most college Athletic Directors know that if you want to put butts in the seats, you need a coach that sends the ball down the field and scores points.  Do you hear me Tennessee?.

Mumme landed his first college head coaching job at tiny NAIA Iowa Wesleyan College in 1988.  His first offensive line coach was Mike Leach. Leach, who never played college football, earned a degree from BYU and a law degree from Pepperdine, took the job for $12,000 a year. One of Mumme’s first recruits was an undersized Wide Receiver named Dana Holgerson.  Leach is now running the Air Raid at Washington State after success with it at Texas Tech.  Holgerson is doing the same at West Virginia though in fairness his version appears to have more of a running component.  Mumme took Leach – and Holgerson as a coach – to Division II Valdosta State in Valdosta, Georgia.  At the time he arrived Valdosta State had never made the NCAA’s Division II playoffs.  In four seasons with Mumme as the Head Coach, Leach as the offensive coordinator and Holgerson helping with the quarterbacks and wide receivers, Valdosta State went 40-17-1 and twice made the NCAA Division II Quarterfinals.

The success at Valdosta earned Mumme a job at Kentucky in the SEC and Leach went with him.  When then Kentucky A.D. C.M. Newton hired him he told boosters that he was looking for “Rick Pitino on grass” (Pitino was then Kentucky’s basketball coach) and he thought he found him.  Turns out he did.  Mumme inherited a program from vanilla Bill Curry that had gone 9-24 in the previous 3 years.  His first year Mumme took Curry’s quarterback recruit Tim Couch and beat Alabama for the first time since 1922.  In 1998, Kentucky earned its first New Year’s Day Bowl game in 47 years and Couch became the number one pick of then expansion Cleveland Browns.  Couch wound up being an NFL bust and as it turns out Mumme flamed out as well.

Like all good Shakespearian tragedies where the lead character is often responsible for his own demise, Mumme was as well.  He looked the other way while his football operations person was paying recruits.  While Mumme was never directly implicated, he was fired at Kentucky and has never received so much as a sniff of a Power-5 job since.  He’s lucky it didn’t occur in the NCAA’s current climate or the damage could have been fatal to any future in football.

Mumme eventually resurfaced where he restarted the football program at FCS Southeastern Louisiana in 2003.  From there he had a stint as the head coach at New Mexico State before falling to the Division III ranks first at McMurry University and then Bellhaven.   When he was hired at Bellhaven in 2014, his college career had come full circle as the school was in the NAIA before transitioning to Division III.  This year’s Bellhaven Blazers are struggling at 1-6 and it’s unclear how long Mumme – in his 60s – will continue to coach because even in Division III if you ain’t winning you ain’t working very long.

His legacy certainly lives on.  Having taught the Air Raid to Leach, Leach took a job as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.  He taught the system to Mark Mangino who took over as the coordinator when Leach went to be the head coach at Texas Tech.  In Mangino’s first year as coordinator, Oklahoma won the National Championship and then eventually wound up as the Head Coach at Kansas.  Mangino had Kanas playing the Orange Bowl but after he was fired, the school that cares mostly about basketball is playing that way.

Leach took Holgerson with him to Texas Tech.  There Leach and Holgerson taught the system to Sonny Dykes, formerly the head coach at Louisiana Tech and California, Kliff Kingbury the current Texas Tech Head Coach, Sonny Cumbie, the current offensive coordinator at TCU, Art Briles who employed it with success at Baylor, Hawaii Coach Greg McMaking, Ruffin McNeal who took another Leach disciple Lincoln Riley with him to East Carolina (Riley is now the head coach at Oklahoma and is using the offense), Neal Brown the coach at Troy, North Texas coach Seth Littrell, and SMU Coach Chad Morris.

Along the way the Air Raid has made stops at Houston and Oklahoma State where Holgerson was the offensive coordinator before going to West Virginia, and Texas A&M were Kevin Sumlin took what Holgerson was doing at Houston and moved it to College Station, Texas.  There are bits and pieces of the offense everywhere even if it isn’t the primary system.  Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente employs some of it and all he’s done at Tech is make replacing legendary coach Frank Beamer look easy after pulling Memphis’ football program out of the dumpster.

And that brings us to this week where 5 of the top 7 passing teams in the statistics are “Air Raid” teams.  Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are 1-2 in passing offense, West Virginia is 4th and Texas Tech 7th.  In total offense, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are again 1-2, West Virginia 5th and Texas Tech 7th.  Did you notice, all of those teams are in the Irving, Texas based Big-12, the state where the “Air Raid” was born.

There are any number of ways to win football games and what works for some doesn’t work for others.  On Friday nights you can see the Single Wing, the Wishbone and Veer continue to grind out yardage and wins, but in major college football if you’re not throwing it, you’re getting left behind and in part you can thank a guy from San Antonio for helping craft the game you enjoy today.

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