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Air Raid Offense Series: History and fundamentals

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We explore the Air Raid offense and its origins in the first part of our series.

Texas Tech v Texas A&M Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Football schemes are a game of create, copy and adapt. From the option wishbone, wildcat, and spread offenses, the sport has been shaped by innovators. This concept is as prevalent for the air raid offense as any other offensive scheme. The brainchild of Hal Mumme, the air raid offense utilizes a pass-first mentality, completely different than its predecessors.

Hal Mumme

Hal Mumme served as the offensive coordinator at UTEP in the early 80’s. After four unsuccessful seasons the coaching staff was fired, and Mumme found himself as the head coach of Copperas Cove high school in Texas.

At the time, most offenses were running ground and pound football — line players up and run the ball, smashing into each other akin to the Big Ten’s “three yards and a cloud of dust.” This philosophy had a major flaw to it. Most of the time the team with the better and stronger players won, leaving little wriggle room for tactics or creativity. At Copperas Cove, Mumme was taking over an abysmal program in one of the most competitive regions of Texas. They simply didn’t have the talent to beat the top teams in their region.

In his first year, Mumme decided to utilize the pass more than typical at the time. Mumme based most of his offense around what is now known as the Run-and-Shoot offense. While the team finished with a 5-5 record and passed the ball nearly as often as it ran, Hal felt that more could be done. One team he wanted to emulate was BYU, a team that UTEP faced multiple times while Mumme served as coordinator. BYU would go on to win a national championship in 1984 utilizing a pass-heavy offense.

Lavell Edwards

Following the ’86 season, Hal visited Lavell Edwards at BYU to learn the offense and implement it at Copperas Cove. Success didn’t exactly follow — the ‘87 and ‘88 seasons resulted in a combined seven wins. Despite the disappointing outcomes, Mumme was hired at Iowa Wesleyan College for the ’89 season. Five players and one coach showed up to his first meeting with the program, with the rest of the team quitting. Upon informing the team they would be a pass first offense and that he expected them to lift weights throughout the winter, one of the players left.

Mumme’s first recruit was not a player, but a coach. Mike Leach grew up in the Northwest, a grad of BYU and Pepperdine with no collegiate playing experience. Leach was interested in Mumme’s passing revolution and signed aboard as an offensive coordinator. Iowa Wesleyan did not win a game in the ’88 season the year before Mumme and Leach took over. Over the next three years, they won a combined 24 games and made the playoffs twice. Quarterback Dustin Dewald still owns all three single season passing yard records in IWC history, as well the career passing yards record by nearly 4,000 yards.

Following the success at IWC, Mumme was offered the head coaching position at Valdosta State in Georgia. Bringing Leach and the air raid offense with him, Mumme continued his on-field success, tying for second in the conference in his first year. This is also where the offense got its namesake as the school would sound off an air horn after every score. Under Mumme and Leach, Valdosta State won their first playoff game and conference title.

With this continued success came the call from Kentucky, an SEC doormat basketball school. Over a four-year period, Mumme managed to squeeze out 20 wins, two bowl games, and a #1 draft pick. His final season at Kentucky, an abysmal 2-9 campaign, ended with a recruiting scandal by an assistant resulting in Mumme’s termination.

Since then, Mumme has landed at several different stops throughout college football. His air raid offense’s legacy continues with a coaching tree of present head coaches and offensive coordinators throughout college football’s ranks.

The basic characteristics of the air raid offense are what deviated it from other offenses at the time. First and foremost is the dedication to the pass. Last year Leach’s current team Washington State passed 663 times to 295 rushes for a 69/31 pass-to-run split.

Secondly were the offensive line splits. Linemen are two and sometimes three feet away from each other. The system also calls for a no-huddle offense, something that was unheard of at the time Mumme and Leach started building their offense around it.

Finally, the offense is predicated by the sheer simplicity of the scheme. The offense simplified as much as possible from the protection schemes to the route trees and play calls. Mumme and Leach believed that it was execution of the plays with repetition at practice that led to the success on game day.

Over the course of the following series, the system will be broken down from the line out. The topics covered will include pass protection, route trees and play call tagging, and quarterback read progressions.

If there are any topics you’d wish to have covered, whether on the air raid or other systems, please leave questions and suggestions below in the comments.