A 24-hour drive to the northwest, in a town called Pullman, Wash., a college campus teeters on the verge of euphoria much like our town does.
For the moment, Wazzu, not Mizzou, ranks as the biggest rival to Kansas University, and the school isn’t even on the Jayhawks’ schedule.
The fan bases of WSU and KU want the same thing. They want to hear their respective athletic directors step to a podium and announce Mike Leach as the next head coach.
Many in the industry read the fact that Washington State athletic director Bill Moos said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference that Leach is on his “very short list,” as Moos being confident he will land the former Texas Tech coach. Otherwise, why would he set up the Wazzu fans for disappointment by mentioning his name? One hopeful for the Washington State job was told by a Wazzu insider that it was too late, that Leach had been identified as the school’s choice.
Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger takes a more stealth approach to hiring coaches and doesn’t publicly discuss names.
Leach became such a hot commodity not by sharing his fascination with pirates or by blasting his players for listening to their “fat little girlfriends” or by suing ESPN, the network’s analyst Craig James and Texas Tech. He’s the hottest candidate on the market because he knows how to put huge offensive numbers on the board.
For a look at what makes Leach’s “Air Raid” offense tick, I placed a phone call to the man under whom Leach and so many other football coaches learned it. Leach worked for Hal Mumme at Valdosta State and Kentucky. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes (a possible KU candidate) and Murray State’s Chris Hatcher also fell from the Mumme coaching tree.
Mumme, who reversed Kentucky’s fortunes by going 18-17 in his first three seasons (1997-1999), was fired after a poor fourth season undermined by an NCAA investigation that resulted in a postseason ban and loss of scholarships. From there, he coached at Southeastern Louisiana and New Mexico State.
Mumme just completed his third season at McMurry University, a Division III school in Abilene, Texas. He inherited a team that had gone 0-8 in 2008 and played in front of crowds too small to be called crowds. His team had an eight-game winning streak this season, scoring 63, 50, 41, 60, 24, 49, 63 and 25 points during it. The team qualified for the postseason for the first time in school history and won a playoff game. McMurry moves to Division II next season and is building a new stadium.
No man is more responsible for revolutionizing the way college football is played today than Mumme, and he’s coaching in the shadows and winning big.
“Abilene’s a great place,” Mumme said. “It’s a lot like Mayberry — full-service filling station and a drive-in picture show. How many football coaches can say that to a recruit’s mom?”
So many branches of Mumme’s tree inherited his magical knack for taking over losing programs and turning them around by recruiting the right quarterbacks into a quarterback-friendly system and putting them through practices not quite like any others.
In a typical football practice, Mumme said, a receiver will catch maybe one or two thrown balls every 10 minutes.
“In our practices, in a 10-minute period, our receivers will catch 75 or 80 balls,” Mumme said.
Every time a receiver runs a route, Mumme said, he is thrown the ball and required to run it all the way into the end zone. Five footballs will be in the air at one time and five receivers will be running to the end zone after catching them.
“That’s the reason we score a lot,” Mumme said. “We practice scoring all the time. We expect to score because we did it on every play in practice.”
His passion for his job remains as high as ever.
“A 19-year-old at McMurry isn’t any more or any less important than a 19-year-old at the University of Texas,” Mumme said. “They’re here to get an education and play football, and it’s a chance for me to create great offense, which is what I enjoy doing. I love Saturday afternoons. I don’t care if 50,000 are watching or 5,000.”
So how does he score so many points everywhere he goes?
Finding the right quarterback is a must in making the Air Raid offense go.
Mumme agreed that the key to recruiting is not selling, rather thoroughly evaluating a quarterback’s physical and mental abilities.
“Good leaders, good team guys who have all the intangibles,” Mumme said. “That’s more important than arm strength, size or speed.”
How are the intangibles evaluated?
“For me, I want to see his grades,” Mumme said. “What kind of person is he? I want to know the team likes him. Will they follow him? Usually, if you talk to the offensive linemen, they’ll tell you the truth. They’re the most unselfish and tend to be the most honest guys on a football team, so I ask them.”
“In our system, he has to have a great pocket feel, a quick release, has to be able to see the field and has to have a great passion for what we do,” Mumme said. “Is he going to be the guy who stays late, the guy who gets everybody together to do extra throwing and catching and watching film? That’s how they get to be great. It’s not just God-given ability.”
Judging a quarterback’s field vision is best done at camps, where Mumme said he likes to stand behind the quarterback and see what he sees. He’ll even sit them in a chair and perform a peripheral-vision test. Judging how fast the ball comes out of the quarterback’s hands is another skill best judged in person, he said.
He has no playbook and said quarterbacks can learn the offense in three days and then master it by getting more reps daily in practice. After three times through that cycle, or to put it another way, after nine workouts, Mumme said, “You get a pretty good feel if a guy can play.”
Leach is the most proven of the Mumme disciples, but far from the only successful one.
“Sonny Dykes won the WAC with a freshman at quarterback,” in his second year at the school, Mumme pointed out. “Dana Holgorsen. Chris Hatcher. Chris Hatcher’s a great football coach.”
If the next Kansas coach falls off the Mumme tree, fun Saturdays are on the horizon.