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Book Review: S. C. Gwynne’s “The Perfect Pass”

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The story of Hal Mumme and how he invented the “Air Raid” offense. Excellent writing, excellent choice.

S.C. Gwynne’s “The Perfect Pass” is the story of Hal Mumme, his coaching career, and how he invented the “Air Raid” offense. Mumme is part coach, part salesman, and part con man (in a fun way) as Gwynne guides us through Mumme’s journey, as he takes what then would have been a radical approach to offense, that being a past first approach in a day in which most others thought that throwing the ball was comparable to committing mortal sin.

From 1982 to 1985 Mumme was an offensive coordinator at UTEP. He wanted to run a pass first offense but at that time but such a thing didn’t exist. He tried to watch other teams such as the San Francisco 49ers under Bill Walsh and tried to study LaVell Edwards schemes at BYU, but he was limited in what he could do at the time because he didn't have the connections.

As Mumme moves through coaching jobs that included Copperas Cove High School, and Iowa Wesleyan. Mumme teams up with Mike Leach at Iowa Wesleyan, and while Leach goes on to become the more well-known of the pair, it is when the two reach Iowa Wesleyan that the story really takes off. Mumme begins to make connections, and he and Leach take to the road and drive for hours just to meet with coaches such as Lindy Infante (then at Green Bay) and Dennis Erickson (then at Miami, FL). You find yourself wondering why the Green Bay Packers would allow two unknown coaches into their offices, access to their secrets, and accommodate them for several hours, and then you realize that this all happened in a day and age before the Internet, when people made personal connections instead of just sending an email. Now you can easily watch videos online or download coaches books galore.

Ah, the glory of a road trip.

Mumme takes Iowa Wesleyan from a joke to a team that nobody really wants to play. He is successful enough that he is asked to leave, and we’re never really given a full explanation as to why, although the implication is that he's made football bigger than the tiny school Iowa Wesleyan sees itself to be. After Iowa Wesleyan, Mumme manages to get a job at Valdosta State, located in Georgia. The author makes it very clear that the entire state of Georgia thinks that running the football is what God intended.

It is at Valdosta State that Mumme comes into his own. It didn't happen right away, of course, in his first season he tried to put on a football camp to introduce himself to high school coaches and nobody came. His record at Valdosta State would end at 40 – 17 – 1. He led his team to the NCAA Division II playoff quarterfinals twice when they'd never made the playoffs before nor come close.

His next stop, in 1996, was Kentucky. In his first season (1997) the Wildcats beat Alabama for the first time since 1922. In 1998, Kentucky finished 7 – 5, with Tim Couch as their quarterback, and Couch went on to be the first pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Mumme’s career at Kentucky ended under NCAA violations; Gwynne writes about the scandal, but pretty clearly leaves Mumme next to blamemess of the mess that the Wildcats were in.

“The Perfect Pass” meets you halfway between a glory story about a hallowed coach that invented an offense and a book on coaching that offense. Most stories about coaches don't go into a lot of technical detail about the offenses or defenses they run, because most casual fans aren't that interested in that level of detail. "The Perfect Pass" goes deep enough that the casual fan will discover what made Mumme’s offense so unstoppable.

Who is this book for?

Gwynne’s writing is excellent. His storytelling around Mumme’s life and his career in the trials and tribulations he has to go to just to invent his own offense are well worth the price of this book. Mike Leach is well known for his antics. Mumme was his mentor. Imagine the two of them together.

Any casual football fan, regardless if they are a fan of the passing game or not, will enjoy this book.

If you’re one of those later Christmas shoppers and you have a football fan on your list, I would easily recommend this as the football book you should buy them. If you don’t have a football fan on your list, perhaps you should just go ahead and buy it for yourself.