For kids growing up today, football's pass-happy offenses are natural and expected. That hasn't always been the case. As S.C. Gwynne chronicles in The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football, the passing game has evolved through a variety of streams, but one man is chiefly responsible for shaping the passing game as it is played today: Hal Mumme. Called by some the most influential football coach of the modern era, Mumme is not remembered for championships but for the way he re-envisioned the game and has influenced a generation of coaches and players.
From the start, passing was considered a sissy option in a hard-hitting game. Even as Mumme expanded his game plans to a pass-first offense, he met resistance. Coaches were slow to pick up his ideas. He put on coaching clinics where no one showed up, or if they showed up they walked out early. Eventually his genius was recognized, as he transformed small, previously noncompetitive football programs into record-breaking passing machines.
Gwynne's account is a delightful stroll through recent football history. Although he sees Mumme as a distinctive genius, he does place Mumme in appropriate context, describing Mumme's use of ideas from BYU's passing attack (especially when he beat BYU as a major underdog, using their own plays against them!), the West Coast offense, and other approaches, shaping those ideas into his own Air Raid offense. Gwynne makes a strong case that the passing game we see today, especially in the Big 12, but really across college and pro football, owes its nature to Mumme's Air Raid.
Mumme had moments in the limelight, but for the most part is an unknown figure to many football fans. (Today he's coaching at Bellhaven University, which plays in the NAIA.) But fans who love where the game has come, with an emphasis on passing and spreading the field, should take a break between games to read The Perfect Pass and pay homage to one of the true geniuses of the game. The Perfect Pass is essential reading for football history aficionados.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!