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From humble birth to game-altering impact: Hal Mumme, Mike Leach and the birth of the Air Raid

THE AIR RAID hasn’t just changed how offense is played at Washington State since Mike Leach's arrival in 2012, but really how the game of football is played at all levels. S.C. Gwynne, an author and historian out of Austin, Texas, has written a colorful book – “The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football” – about the birth of the Air Raid 25 years ago.

It chronicles how Hal Mumme and his top assistant – a newly minted law school graduate named Mike Leach – “irreverently destroyed and re-created the game.”

The start of it all, in 1989 at NAIA Iowa Wesleyan College, was inauspicious. A captivating article in the Des Moines Register this weekend captures just how modest the beginnings were:

In Mumme’s first meeting with players at Iowa Wesleyan, only three returning players showed up.

“And two left. The punter stayed,” said Mumme in an interview from his home in Mississippi last month.

So Mumme and Leach set forth in a beat-up car and traveled the country to recruit players to the small school, which at the time was a member of the the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA, and could offer scholarships, sometimes as small as $500.

Mumme was a colorful Texan with big dreams who talked a lot; Leach was a long-haired eccentric from Wyoming.

“We drove through snowstorms and wild weather because we couldn’t afford to fly,” said Leach, now the head football coach at Washington State University. “We’d drive for days and stay wherever we could afford. We would try to recruit anybody and everybody.”

Mumme, as head coach, was making $30,000 a year – a dramatic pay cut from his “Friday Night Lights” high school job back in Texas – and Leach was so poorly paid he was living in a “nasty little trailer.”

The full blossoming of the Air Raid came in season three, on Aug. 31, 1991, when Iowa Wesleyan played Division II powerhouse Northeast Missouri State and “pulled off a stunning 34-31 upset on way to a 10-1 record.” All these years later, the influences are clear. Writes the Des Moines Register:

Versions of it (the Air Raid) are run by nearly every Big 12 team, for example, except for Kansas State, football experts say. It's so pervasive and feared that in recent years, Alabama coach Nick Saban even called for rule changes to slow down hurry-up, no-huddle offenses to make the game safer for players.

Head here to read the full article and here to buy the book.

NOTABLE: An interesting footnote in the tale, found in the Register’s video clip of Mumme at the top of the story, is that some of the inspiration for the Air Raid came from former Idaho walk on linebacker and one-time Spokane high school coach Don Matthews. His approach to the two-minute drill was what Mumme wanted to implement for an entire game. In 1969 and ’70, before his wildly successful coaching tenure in the Canadian Football League, Matthews turned Spokane’s Ferris High from a laugh stock to a powerhouse.


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