What the Air Raid and 7-on-7 football hath wrought:
The common refrain was that Tech quarterbacks under Mike Leach and other quarterbacks in similar offenses were products of the system. That the Air Raid offense Leach brought with him to Tech from Kentucky wouldn’t work in the NFL.
But that was then. This is the beginning of 2019, a now that includes Mahomes putting up 50 touchdowns in his MVP-level first season as a starter after spending three years under Kingsbury’s tutelage in an Air Raid-based system.
And now that includes 2018 No. 1 NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield completing nearly 64 percent of his passes and throwing 28 touchdowns for the Cleveland Browns a year after being drafted first overall despite standing just north of 6 feet tall and hailing from an offense run by a Leach disciple in Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.
Mayfield and Mahomes have succeeded in their brief times as NFL quarterbacks because of their ability to make quick decisions and accurate throws, two characteristics needed to succeed in an Air Raid system.
It also helps that Mayfield (in the second half of the season) and Mahomes have been coached in the NFL by play-callers willing to use the plays they’ve been running in high school and college…
“As far as the Air Raid goes, the biggest thing for me is the NFL’s started to do it now,” Samford coach Chris Hatcher said. “And it’s amazing to me. To me you can look at that and it’s taken them a while to make that adjustment but that’s what the high schools are doing, that’s what the colleges are doing, that’s what the players are more suited to doing now and that’s why you see a guy like [Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff] and Mahomes becoming so successful. Andy Reid, he was [a grad assistant] at BYU under LaVell Edwards and that’s who [Hal] Mumme learned the base scheme from.”
Now that coaches like Reid and the Rams’ Sean McVay were brave enough to try once-exotic college concepts in the NFL, Mumme, who Leach coached under at Kentucky and Valdosta State, believes the copycat league will do what it does best.
“Maybe a fourth of the NFL’s kind of come on board, and they’ll all copy each other,” Mumme said. “You watch. Next year, it will be twice. It will be half of the NFL.”
I was admittedly skeptical of that a decade ago, but nothing succeeds like success. It’s not just the scheme, either. 7-on-7 ball lets quarterbacks spend more time developing their skills within the scheme than ever.
“Because you can throw and catch — skill can be done all summer long,” Olin said. “You run your offense, and kids learn how to run routes. Quarterbacks learn how to throw.”
He had heard about 7-on-7 football from Bill Snyder, who was an assistant on Hayden Fry’s staff in the 1980s when Olin was coaching in Iowa. Olin’s first tournament was a four-team exhibition. After it was played, the goal quickly became a 32-team tournament. Rules were finalized, sites and insurance were procured and teams throughout the greater Houston area started signing up.
“I think that 7-on-7 leagues have helped a tremendous amount,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said of the growth of offenses stretching the field. “They were allowed to do it in California for a long time. As a matter of fact, California started them. And then, and Texas was actually quite stubborn about accepting them, and then when Texas did — another huge football state — then it exploded even more.”
We all kind of brushed aside what Mumme and Leach did at Kentucky, but twenty or so years later, it’s amazing how much influence the Air Raid has had over football offense, on every level.