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The Air Raid Offense: History, Evolution,

Weirdness From Mumme to Leach to


Franklin to Holgorsen and Beyond
Monday, 09 July 2012 , by : Chris
The personal story of the rise and development of the Air Raid offense, the story of the men who
developed and mastered it its originators, Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, as well as coaches
like Tony Franklin and Dana Holgorsen has been told many times and told very well. The
offense itself, its raw structure, plays, and formations, nevertheless deserves deeper study given
its incredible rise, its increasing importance, and and its almost shocking omnipresence, in one
form or another, at every level of football.

Lets call a pass
But the Air Raids evolution over time has been even more fascinating than the playbook at any
one moment of time. To paraphrase Holmes, a playbook is but a crystal, transparent and
unchanged, and fails to convey the pressures that led to its existence or give any indication how
it will continue to be shaped and reshaped over time. Indeed, the coaches whove taught and
learned the Air Raid have changed, the players and formations have changed, and even the plays
themselves have changed. The offense, however, remains, both shaped by these coaches and
their players and somehow shaping each of them in the process. The wishbone and the Wing-T
were playbooks, Bill Walshs West Coast offense a meticulous method of gameplanning, but the
Air Raid is something more akin to an idea, or at least several related ones: that to be get an
advantage at modern football you need to be particularly good at something, and to be good at
something you have to commit to that something, and if youre going to commit to something it
might as well be different. And thus the principles underlying the Air Raid exist almost
externally from the many coaches who have taught it: a diligent, many-reps approach to practice;
a pass-first and spread the wealth philosophy; and, above all else, the edict to be willing to live in
the extremes, to do things just a bit differently, to approach the game unlike other coaches, to be
willing, in a game where conformity is king, to be just a little bit weird.
This article is therefore less about the blood and tissue of the Air Raids story the personal
stories of the men like Mumme and Leach who shaped the offense, though there is some of that
too but is instead about its bones: the history and evolution of the actual formations, plays,
concepts, and gameplans that made up what you saw on some random Saturday a decade ago and
will see on Saturdays this fall. This story is too complex of course for a single article, but we can
still distill the broad themes to their essence and focus on four main storylines to the Air Raids
story: the classical period, including the birth of the Air Raid from its BYU roots and the
originaltwo-back package used at Valdosta State and Kentucky; Leachs Texas Tech era, where
the head pirate-in-charge tweaked the offense and as a result the Air Raid found a home in the
southwest and flourished like it never had before; the offenses bubbling up from the high school
ranks, led by former outcast Tony Franklin and his Tony Franklin System; and the next
generation of Air Raid innovators, led by Dana Holgorsen and others, who have begun the work
of deconstructing the offense for a modern and everchanging game.
The Classical Period: Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, and Kentucky
When LaVell Edwards, head coach at BYU, decided that he wanted to throw the ball around, he
and his offensive coordinator Doug Scovil looked to the NFL for inspiration. Scovil brought with
him to BYU the core pass plays hed learned in there, which in fact were the Sid Gillmans core
pass plays: vertical stretches, horizontal stretches, and man beating routes. These included the
famous curl/flat and corner/flat routes, strongside and weakside flood routes, and so on. In other
words, these were simply the building blocks of every passing offense. Gillman, decades earlier,
had the simple insight that if one properly allocated receivers across the field at varying depths
with space between them, no zone defense could cover them. Although the offense only has five
potential receivers while the defense can drop seven, eight, or even nine men into coverage, if
the offense can always threaten both vertically and underneath, the field is simply too large for a
zone defense to cover a well orchestrated passing attack. And if zone defenses could not stop
such passing, then passing concepts could be constructed to also defeat the inevitable man
coverage theyd face. Defenses, in turn, would have to find ways to bring pressure to disrupt this
design, and thus the cat-and-mouse game between offense and defense would go. Gillman
revolutionized offense, but Scovil and Edwards streamlined it so that college kids and not
professionals could excel with Gillmans pro-style concepts. The story of the Air Raid over
the last twenty years is simply this story being retold over and over again.
Mumme, Leach, and company famously made many pilgrimages to BYU during this time,
including back when Mumme was still at Copperas Cove as a high school coach. There they
studied everything about BYUs system and essentially stole it verbatim, except they eventually
began adding their own wrinkles based on their experiences: they began using more and more
shotgun, more spread sets, ceased flipping their formations, and generally tailored the offense to
what their players high school and small college athletes could do. (At the end of this
article is an appendix featuring the plays and reads for the BYU passing offense.)
The idea behind the original Air Raid package was very simple; indeed, originally, it was just
the Hal Mumme and Mike Leach translation of the old BYU playbook. Ive included the old
BYU passing game playbook at the bottom of this article as an appendix. Mumme and Leach
simply took those BYU plays, added a bit more shotgun, and just threw the ball more often than
even LaVell Edwards had. Over time, however, they began tweaking the plays changing this
route here, altering this there and, most importantly, tailoring the schemes not to an NFL
quarterback, or even the great college quarterbacks BYU had like Steve Young, Jim McMahon,
or Ty Detmer, but instead average high school and small college quarterbacks like Dustin
Dewald at Iowa Wesleyan and Chris Hatcher and Lance Funderburk at Valdosta State.
While at Valdosta, they primarily engaged in addition by subtraction. They cut out a few passing
plays that werent as useful, shrank the running game to little more than an iso lead play and a
draw, and, most famously, made the offense asymmetrical: Instead of running each play in one
direction and having right and left variations on each formation, they instead made the
offense entirely right-handed, always putting the tight-end or Y receiver to the right and the
split-end or X to the left, and only moving Z around. Both Leach and Mumme have said
they were inspired to do this after a conversation with former Baltimore Colts great Raymond
Berry, who told them that was exactly how he and Unitas and the rest of the Colts did it. If you
flip all of your formations, every time you teach a route say, a curl or a slant each receiver
actually has to learn two routes, because he has to learn it from both the right and left sides. And
the quarterback has to get used to throwing it to him to his left and to his right, depending on
each receivers individual quirks.
Further, Berry said, he developed multiple ways to run each route depending on the leverage of
the defense; if they asked him to line up to both sides he either had to give up those subtle
variations or had to learn to run each of them to both sides, which was nigh impossible. Instead,
he learned to run his routes on one side, and Unitas learned how to throw them to him on that
side. Once Mumme and his staff made that change at Valdosta, the completion percentage of
their quarterback at the time, Chris Hatcher, jumped roughly ten percentage points and won the
Harlon Hill trophy, known colloquially as the Heisman trophy for D-II. Hatcher would of course
go on to become an assistant to Mumme at Kentucky and is now the head coach at Murray State.
At this stage, the core of the offense was made up of a few five- and seven-step drop passing
plays, specifically Mesh, All-Curl, 93 Wheel, Y-Sail, and Y-Cross. Lets take a quick look at
each play:

92: The infamous Mesh
No play is more synonymous with the Air Raid than the mesh concept, which was directly
taken from the old BYU offense. The name of the play refers to the two receivers, Y and X, who
run shallow crosses in opposite directions. The rule is that the Y sets the depth of the mesh,
meaning he works to about six yards deep, while it is Xs job to come directly underneath him
in practice they begin by touching hands as they run by to ensure there is no space between
them. It is, at core, a rub route, known more derisively by defensive players and coaches as a
pick play. Its not illegal because the receivers do not actually seek to pick defenders but
instead simply get on their paths and run by each other, forcing defenders to go around them.
Meanwhile, the runningbacks both check-release meaning they look for potential blitzers
and then release quickly to the flats.
The key innovation from Mumme on the play was to change Zs route from a post, which is what
it was in the old BYU system, to a corner route. This transforms the play into a triangle read on
the frontside, with the corner, X on the shallow and F in the flat creating the triangle, which puts
both a high/low and a horizontal stretch on a zone defense. Further, the corner route had some
ability to adjust: against man defenses and in the red zone, it was a true corner route run at 45
degrees and to the pylon, thrown with arc; against a soft corner the receiver bent it flat
underneath the dropping defender, so it become more of a true out route. At all turns, the theory
was for the quarterback and receiver to simply find the open grass.

96: All-Curl
The All-Curl concept is one that is as old as the passing game itself. It goes directly back to Sid
Gillman and is a true horizontal stretch. Once each receiver has run his route, there are five
receivers facing the quarterback, and against any three-deep zone defense with four underneath
defenders, there should always be a receiver open. They had different ways of reading the play
too; their preference was to read it from the Y to the backside X, but would read the frontside
against certain weak rotating coverages. Early on at Kentucky Mumme essentially spoonfed Tim
Couch and told him which way to read it; as time went on he and other quarterbacks were given
more freedom.

93: H-Wheel
This somewhat off-beat play developed out of a few BYU routes. One was the desire to run the
curl/wheel combination, especially given that the H in the Air Raid ran to the flat so often the
wheel was a nice change-up. But BYU also had a play called Y-Option or Y-Choice, and the
pivot route by the Y receiver on this play essentially as an outlet was a way to incorporate
the concept. This is just one of the examples of a play that began with BYU but changed forms a
few times before it started showing up on Air Raid whiteboards. And in 1997 at Kentucky,
Mummes preferred way of calling the play was actually from trips, shown below, with the Z
receiver on the left in-between the X and H.

93: Trips H-Wheel
Kentucky used this variant a lot in that first season because the read was so simple the curl
usually came wide open and it was the call for the game-winner (though from a two-back set)
for the Couch-to-Yeast overtime gamewinner when Kentucky beat Alabama in 1997, their first
time beating the Crimson Tide in over 75 years.

94: Y-Sail
When Mumme saw man-to-man defenses, as were prevalent in the SEC, he liked the Mesh
concept. But against zones he tended to call one of his two flood plays, his strongside flood or
Y-Sail concept being the first. The play looked like most three level vertical stretch plays,
with a deep receiver (Z), a short receiver (F) and an intermediate one (Y). On this play Y had
some flexibility: he could run a true corner route to the soft spot in a zone, or he could stick his
foot and break flat on a true out route. Or he could break to the outside but then settle up in the
first open window.
On the backside, the H check-released to the flat (sensing a theme here?) while the X ran a dig
route burst to ten, fake running the post, then break flat across the field at fifteen. The theory
was that the only way a zone defense could defend the frontside flood is if it over-rotated to that
side; if it did then the quarterback could step up and work the backside dig combination. (Note
that Mumme often had the backside receiver also run either a curl or a post-curl; it often
depended on the speed of the receiver he had there.)
Further, at this time the four verticals play was not a main feature of the Air Raid (more on that
in a moment), and so the vertical route by Z on Y-Sail and the vertical by X in Y-Cross below
were the main shot routes in the offense. This was simply built into the ball-control nature of
the passing game, but it also was a reason why the Air Raid developed a reputation as a dink-
and-dunk offense. This was something the next generation of Air Raid coaches as well as
Leach himself would specifically address.

95: Y-Cross
Behind only the Mesh concept, Y-Cross is the route I think of most when I think of the classic
Air Raid. While back then the offense didnt feature a lot of vertical, over-the-top types of
routes, Y-Cross was the main big play generator for them. First, the X receiver had a lot of
freedom to run either a true Go or vertical route, or to bend it back inside into more of a post if
the near safety vacated the area. His job was to take the top off of the defense. Second, the Y
receiver worked his deep cross under Sam and over Mike, meaning inside the strongside
linebacker and over the top and behind the middle linebacker to a spot 22 yards deep to the
opposite side of the field. And underneath the H, typically the halfback, ran a true option route.
He burst to about five yards deep, essentially right at the weakside linebacker, and either broke
his route outside, inside, or settled up in an open void against zones. He was taught to basically
step on the toes of the weakside linebacker before making his break. The Z on the backside ran
the dig route while the F leaked to the flat as the outlet.
The Air Raiders called this Y-Cross but Sid Gillman used to call it simply what it was: weakside
flood. Its the exact same concept as the Y-Sail, except the Y is coming from the opposite side of
the formation. This too made it a nice change-up to the Y-Sail and Mesh concepts that Mumme
ran so often, and if a team tried to overplay the Air Raids inherent right-handed nature, Y-Cross
was there to hit them to the backside.
This route concept came directly from BYU; LaVell Edwards spoke about it many times and it
was one of their best passes, and Mumme ripped it off verbatim. The only difference was the
increased freedom he gave the X receiver to get deep, and that he changed the read slightly. In
the BYU version, the H on the option route was the primary, and they only threw the deep cross
if the defense came up to take him away. Mumme, by contrast, liked to read everything
consistently deep-to-short. The concern was that the defense would overplay the cross and you
needed to hit the halfback to get the cross open behind him, but Mummes teams threw the ball
short to the runningbacks so often the linebackers were already predisposed to giving up the
cross behind them. And there was no concern about not hitting the option route enough; in
Mummes first two years at Kentucky, his H runningback, Anthony White, caught 59 passes in
1997 and 78 in 1998, in each case in only eleven games, many of them on the H-option.

WR Tunnel Screen
Arguably the biggest innovation Mumme and his staff brought to the SEC was the introduction
of the receiver tunnel screen, a predecessor to the wide variety of receiver screens you see
today, from jailbreaks to now screens or rocket screens and many others. At the same time
Purdue was making widespread use of the bubble screen as an at-the-line check in the Big Ten
to hurt stodgy 4-3 teams that didnt deign to walk their linebackers out to Purdues slot receivers,
but Mummes use of the tunnel screen was audacious: Any down, any distance, against any
defense, he was going to throw a none-yard pass to a receiver and let him try to make a play.
Whether or not you think this innovation was ingenious or nefarious likely depends on your view
of the many such receiver screens ever-present throughout every level of football today. But in
1997 teams were really not prepared for it, and the bottom line was that Kentucky could not
throw the ball fifty times a game like they wanted to entirely by dropping back and pass
protecting. Instead they needed to get the ball to the perimeter, fast, and wear out the great
defensive lines they faced. The tunnel screens gave them a way to do it.
At that time Chris Hatcher, the former Mumme quarterback who had then become a Mumme
assistant, liked to say that Kentucky thought of themselves as a well-coached backyard team.
This insight at a place like Kentucky, at least was ingenious, because almost all of
Kentuckys post-Bear Bryant history had shown that it could not compete playing the same
brand of football as everyone else in the SEC. Instead they needed to change the game into
something different, something, well, weird. Mumme and his staff knew they couldnt beat the
big SEC powers or just about anyone in the SEC at all playing normal, regular football.
They could only beat them playing something more like back yard football, and the tunnel screen
was the chief symbol. Because while you may not be able to run right up and knock down guys
who are bigger, stronger, and faster than you, you might, on the other hand, be able to do this:
Youre not supposed to be able to throw a tunnel screen against Cover 1 press man, and your all-
everything quarterback is not supposed to be sixty yards downfield throwing a (borderline
illegal) block. But it was Mummeball in 1997, and it was weird, and yet despite all the weirdness
it was only a taste of what was to come. And it began that following season in 1998. But first,
below are coaching film game cut-ups of the main concepts from the 1997 season.
If I have my history right, the original One-Back Clinic was held at Washington State before
the 1998 season. Mike Price, then the head coach of Washington State was there, as was Mike
Leach, along with the other spread and pass-first guys. There werent many of them, back then.
But it was an interesting group. For Kentucky, that offseason they made a few tweaks to their
offense that have become very famous today. The first was that they wanted to use more one-
back sets, largely because they became more comfortable that their quarterback, Tim Couch,
would be able to find his hot receivers. And they also wanted to run more crossing routes. So it
was that offseason they introduced the Air Raid shallow cross series, which, for the high
school teams that run the Air Raid, may be the most popular concept out of all of them.
Mumme got the actual series from Mike Shanahan, then head coach of the Denver Broncos, but
its unclear to me how much Mumme synthesized it in the translation. The concept was classic
Air Raid: They really could only run it from one set with two receivers to each side but
within that limitation they had ultimate variation.

Shallow Cross
The key for the play was to have the shallow come from one side and the square-in or Hunt
route come from the other. The Hunt route was just a ten yard square-in, where the receiver had
the flexibility to settle in any open void. The outside receivers ran vertical routes while the
runningback check-released to a short hook to the side the shallow came from. The variation
came in that they could call any receiver to run the shallow: Y Shallow, is shown above,
showing the tight-end running the shallow cross and H on the Hunt route. But Z Shallow
would look similar, but with Z running the shallow cross, the Y outside releasing to a vertical
route, with H on the Hunt backside. Or they could call H Shallow or X Shallow, with the
designated receiver running from left to right and the Y running the Hunt. Its the same play and
concept, but allowed them to vary who they wanted to get the ball to based on game plan or
mismatch. I never saw Kentucky run this once in 1997, but it emerged in 1998 as a key play and,
as time would go on, has stayed a mainstay in the Air Raid. Its hard to imagine the Air Raid
before the true shallow cross play, but that shows the fluidity the offense has shown over the
years. The shallow cross was always there in spirit, if not always in practice, and once it was
introduced it was a perfect fit.
The 1998 season was a fairly successful one, ending with the Wildcats in a New Years Day bowl
(once upon a time a bigger thing than it is now, though the Outback Bowl has never been
confused with the Rose Bowl).
Kentucky would return to a bowl game in 1999 despite replacing almost its entire offense, and
Mumme seemed on top of the world. Losses and NCAA violations made sure that that wasnt the
case, and that brief moment of wonderful weirdness vanished as quickly as it came. But it was
the introduction of the wider world to the Air Raid and introduction that notched several big
wins in the Air Raids records, including against SEC opponents and as such it was the
launching pad for a number of careers and a shocking amount of the innovation weve seen in
the last decade. And along the way the Air Raid has evolved along with its chief practitioners,
and there is no one in the history of the offense who stands taller than Mummes one-time right-
hand man, the mercurial Mike Leach. But, before we leave Mumme behind and indeed,
Mumme is still throwing it around, albeit at McMurry below are some clips of him explaining
his offense back in that Kentucky era, courtesy of dacoachmo at one of the original one-back
clinics:
Leachs Odyssey: Four Wides, Four Verticals
Dana Holgorsen, in his usual fashion, has a very direct and succinct answer when asked about
Mike Leachs spin on the Air Raid: Leach is so good because he dont change shit. When
Leach first went to Oklahoma, the lack of change to the classical Air Raid was by design, as Bob
Stoops, the new first-year head coach at OU, simply wanted to hire Kentuckys offense. He had
observed the difficulty of defending the Air Raid first hand while at Florida. Despite the wide
talent disparity between Kentucky and Florida and the fact that Florida won its matchups
against Mumme fairly handily, he found the offense extremely difficult to defend and thus, once
Stoops became a head coach in a turnaround situation at Oklahoma,, he wanted a guy who could
install the Air Raid exactly as Mumme ran it at Kentucky. That coach ended up being the
mercurial Mike Leach. As the video cut-ups from Leachs first year at Oklahoma show, he really
did install the Kentucky original Air Raid package almost verbatim. The one difference was a
harbinger of some changes for the future: the increased use of true four-wide, one-back sets. This
change mightve begun as almost a stylistic difference from the Mummes preferred approach,
which featured more two-back sets, but would necessarily lead the next evolutions in the Air
Raid, which of course took place at Texas Tech.
Mike Leachs success at Texas Tech needs no introduction. His teams blitzkrieged the previously
conservative Big 12 conference, frequently leading the nation in passing yards and total offense,
and not only did he have success with his own team but he had an outsized effect on the rest of
football in the southwest, on his own conference and high schools across Texas.
But his teams werent an instant success at Tech. they threw the ball successfully and went to
bowl games, but it wasnt until the 2002 season, when his quarterback Kliff Kingsbury was a
senior did the offense really explode. Leach himself told his story in his book, and I trace some
of the schematic evolutions at play in mine. At that point, first with Kingsbury but then during an
incredible run of four straight fifth-year senior quarterbacks, and then finally with Graham
Harrell and Michael Crabtree in 2008, the pure Air Raid turned into one of the best attacks in
football history, shredding defenses and record books at an alarming rate.
The changes Leach made were not major, but they were important. While he kept the basic
structure of the offense basically the same as what he and Mumme had used at Kentucky, he did
make some changes, many of them necessitated by his increased use of a four-wide receiver set,
rather than the two-back look they had used at Kentucky. These changes were: (1) wide linemen
splits, (2) running some concepts through the left inside receiver, the H receiver, as well as
through the Y receiver, and (3) the increased focus and adaptation of four verticals.
Linemen splits. It was impossible to flip over to a Texas Tech game and not be shocked at the
enormous amount of space between the offensive linemen, at least as compared with other teams.
The trend across football had been a tightening and homogenization of line splits as every team
seemed to go to a basic inside zone/outside zone running game, and on the outside zone in
particular teams used relatively small splits. But then there was Leachs Red Raider offense. It
was weird stuff, but there was method to the madness.

In the game cut-ups from Leachs year at Oklahoma you can clearly see his move to a four-wide
set and, with it, some of the advantages of that approach in terms of having another immediate
downfield receiving threat and a clearer picture for the quarterback. But the clips also show some
issues the Sooners had in pass protection, particularly against Colorado and Texas as they used
blitzes from safeties and outside defenders who came free. Back then, the primary response was
either for the quarterback to check the play to a quick pass, to try to identify a hot receiver to
throw the ball quickly to, or to bring an inside receiver in orbit motion (where he goes one
direction and then pivots back to the opposite directly) and essentially become an extra
runningback to check release after watching for the extra blocker. These worked but were
unsatisfactory answers. The solution Leach came up with were these maximum splits, which had
the effect of (a) stretching the defensive line from sideline to sideline, lengthening the space they
had to rush from and (b) making any extra interior blitzers or guys who wanted to shoot the gaps
more obvious. In terms of the passing game, Leach felt that it put his guys at a significant
advantage. As he put it:
To me, the ultimate offenses in terms of distribution are what we do and the old school wishbone
offense and both of them have wide splits with their lineman. We would do it for zone run lanes
and pass blocking assignments because the edge guys are now wider from the QB than they
would be. We start out at three feet. If we had no trouble in blocking them than we would widen,
if we had trouble then wed tighten them. Defenses would try to keep a guy in the middle of a
gap and shoot that gap, if they did that we would keep it at three feet. We would just take deeper
drop steps to get angles in our run game. No defenses ever had success in doing that [shooting
gaps] against us because, again, it wasnt something they would consistently do so they werent
comfortable in doing it. Theyre not good at just shooting gaps because they havent done it
except for three practices in preparing to defend us.
The interplay of the wide line splits with the run game was also interesting, however. The wide
line splits made it impossible to use double-teams like traditional zone running teams did, and as
a result it was more about each lineman blocking his man one-on-one. But, because the only time
Leach wanted to run the ball is if the numbers in the box were extremely favorable, the wide line
splits helped his linemen in their run blocking because they almost always had angles. If the
defense tried to stretch out with his linemen, there were almost always running lanes inside; if
they tried to pinch down and shoot the gaps, it was easy enough for his linemen to block down
and seal the edge for his runners to scoot around edge. And while his teams werent known for
their rushing prowess, they did have some success. In 2008, for example, Leachs top two
rushers combined for 1,475 yards on over 5.8 yards per carry.
At one time or another, Leach coached every position on offense, including offensive line. And
he had strong views of how line should be played, and both he and Mumme firmly believed in
the value of one-on-one battles. While slide pass protection and zone blocking have increasingly
become the rage, Leach always focused on man blocking, where the goal was to win the battle
versus the guy across from you. The wide splits were simply that principle taken to its extreme:
each lineman split out enough to where he was essentially on an island, as far from the
quarterback as possible. On the line, at least, the goal was actually to have as many one-on-one
matchups as possible. And Leach was confident his guys would win them.
Bilateral concepts: H-Stick, H-Corner. As discussed in The Essential Smart Football, at Texas
Tech Mike Leach had an unrecruited, undersized slot receiver named Wes Welker playing the
H position. In the classic Air Raid, H was so named because he was the halfback and was
actually a runningback; in Leachs four-wide receiver nearly all the time look, he was a slot
receiver. And, if your slot receiver is Wes Welker, youve got a pretty good one. As a result
Leach made some of the traditional Air Raid plays Y-Stick and Y-Corner, specifically
bilateral, by introducing H-Stick and H-Corner. Note that this didnt violate the Raymond Berry
principle before, as Welker still only lined up in limited spots and didnt have to learn a plethora
of new routes, but it did let Leach run the concept to both sides.
Both Y-Stick and Y-Corner were plays Mumme and Leach used at least as far back as Kentucky,
though it was only over time that they eventually became key Air Raid staples. At Kentucky in
1998, Y-Corner was rarely called at all, and at Oklahoma in 1999 it similarly was not a featured
play. Y-Stick was a bit more prominent, but it too was more of a supporting pass concept and the
goal of the play was more about throwing it to the runningback in the flat than hitting the quick
stick. At Texas Tech, however, the two plays became centerpieces of the offense; indeed, there
were years at Texas Tech where each play was called more often than staples like Mesh and Y-
Cross. And a big reason for that is because Leach and his quarterback could call them to
either side of the field.
As Ive explained elsewhere, Stick and Corner (also known as Snag), are essentially the same
read: They both create a triangle stretch on the defense, combining both a high/low stretch and
an inside/outside or horizontal stretch in the same concept. This makes them particularly adept at
attacking a limited number of zone defenders in a given part of the field. In other words, even
when he didnt know exactly what coverage the defense was in, Leach could call Stick and
Corner, isolate vulnerable defenders with good, well organized routes, and get a positive
completion.

H-Stick
Stick is very simple: The outside receiver runs a fade with a mandatory outside release to pull
defenders; the runningback (or the inside slot in trips) runs to the flat in the form of either a
swing, shoot or true out route; and the inside receiver runs a stick route where he pushes to
five-to-six yards between the Mike and Sam (middle and strongside) linebackers, plants his
outside foot and turns his numbers inside to the quarterback. Against zone defenses the stick
runner tries to find the open void and shuffle slightly outside, whereas against man-to-man he
may plant his foot and pivot to the outside. The quarterbacks job is to throw the ball quickly to
the slot to his outside number, away from the interior defenders and so that he may catch the ball
and turn upfield.
On the backside, the inside slot runs a one step slant and is available as a hot throw against a
blitz, while the outside receiver runs a three-step slant. Against man or outside leverage zone he
plants and breaks flat inside. Against soft coverage, it essentially turns into a hitch. (Note that
this was something Leach changed from the classic Air Raid, which had that backside receiver
run a slant-return route.) The quarterback determined whether to throw frontside or backside
simply depending on where the most open grass was. The only difference between Y-Stick and
H-Stick H-Stick being with Welker as the stick runner was that all the assignments
switched, though the alignments did not. Below are some clips of Stick, courtesy of Trojan
Football Analysis (look at how good Welker was at getting straight upfield after the catch on
618 H in the below clips).

Corner is the same basic concept a high/low stretch combined with an inside/outside one
except how they get there is altered slightly. Now, the slot runs deep via his corner route and the
outside receiver runs inside, while the runningback still runs to the flat. The corner route is an 8-
10 yard corner (on the short side to mesh with the quick game timing), while the outside receiver
runs a one-step slant to the inside, with the ability to settle in an open void against zones. Again,
its the same concept as Stick just a simple ball-control triangle read but by varying the
routes Leach could call the same concepts over and over while still keeping the defense off
balance. Below are clips of Y-Corner and H-Corner, again courtesy of TFA:
Four Verticals. That Leach came to embrace the four verticals play was really no secret, and was
of course a logical extension of his other changes: how do you become a four wide team without
running four verticals? But it took him some time and, as with everything else, he had to do it his
way. As Ive discussed previously and as his then staffers Dana Holgorsen, Sonny Dykes, Bill
Bedenbaugh and Bob Anae laid out in this coaching clinic article, he transformed four
verticals into a read-on-the-run-find-the-open-spots wherever they are play.

6 Four Verticals
While each receiver was given a landmark they had to get to in order to stretch the appropriately
stretch the defense, they were given lots of freedom to settle down their route or even break it off
if they found open space along the way. So while the play was known as four verticals, the
instruction was really, Stay in your vertical lane, but then get open. And with this play as its
new centerpiece, Leachs offense really exploded. Combined with an extra game in the season
and some rules changes for the clocks, what had been good seasons previously became
pedestrian. Under Leachs tutelage in 1999, Josh Heupel re-wrote every Oklahoma passing
record around as he threw for 3,850 yards and 30 touchdowns, by all accounts a monstrous
season statistically. Just a few years later in 2003, equipped with wide splits, H-Stick and H-
Corner, and a fully refined Four Verticals, B.J. Symons threw for 5,833 yards and 52
touchdowns.
And yet, while Leach was at Texas Tech spreading the good news of the Air Raid his way
namely, by blitzkrieging opponents with barrages of points and yards the offense had begun
taking hold in another fashion. While Michael Lewis mused on whether the NFL would ever try
Leachs experimental offense, high schools across the country did exactly that. And they didnt
do it the traditional way, merely by watching games on Saturdays and visiting Lubbock in the
spring, though plenty took that approach. Instead, they did something far different, far more
radical: they went out and bought the offense, complete with installation guides, DVDs, flash
drives, diagrams, and practice tapes. The Air Raid was for sale, and it was (and remains) a great
product. Viva la capitalism.
Tony Franklins System: Air Raid for the Masses
A few years ago, no doubt going for a real life Friday Night Lights, MTV developed a show
about a community obsessed with their high school football team, Hoover High. The show was
called Two-A-Days, and it featured the usual assortment of teenage angst over dates and playing
time, though in Hoover MTV did select a rather intriguing squad, given that at the time they
were deemed the mythical #1 high school team in the country. It was not good television, but, for
whatever its worth, Hoover played good football. They won four straight Alabama 6A titles
from 2002-2005, and added another to make it five titles before MTV had begun filming.
Hoover had not always been very good at football, however, and when their head coach, Rush
Probst, took over in 1999, he needed an edge. He got it by contacting an unemployed, cast-off,
blackballed and essentially dead broke coach by the name of Tony Franklin. When Hal Mumme
was hired to Kentucky in 1997, he more or less knew what he wanted from his staff. He had a
recruiting coordinator, Claude Bassett, a guy hed admired back when Claude was at BYU. He
had his receivers coach and offensive coordinator, Mike Leach, as Leach had followed him
around for decades. He had his offensive line coach, former NFL player Guy Morriss. And he
had a graduate assistant to help with tight-ends, his former Harlan Hill winning quarterback,
Chris Hatcher. All he needed was a runningbacks coach. On Mummes staff at Valdosta had
been a young coach named Dana Holgorsen, a former player for Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan, who
had gone on to Mississippi College to have a larger hand in coordinating an offense. But
Holgorsen had no connections to Kentucky to the south at all, really and instead Mumme
looked for a local coach, maybe a high school coach, who could coach runningbacks and help be
an outreach arm into the community. He found his man in Tony Franklin, a high school coach
there in Kentucky.
For three years under Mumme, Franklin did a nice job with the runningbacks, helped design the
game plans with respect to run plays and pass protection, and, from the New Years Day Bowl
game at the end of the 1998 season and Kentuckys first back-to-back bowl game in ages at the
end of the 1999 season put Mumme and his whole staff in high regard around the country. This
high regard resulted in the hiring off of several of Mummes staff, when Leach left for Oklahoma
before the 1999 season and when Chris Hatcher, now a full-time a assistant, left to become head
coach of Valdosta State before the 2000 year. The offseason for the 2000 season got off to a
tumultuous start when Mumme in the middle of the summer, after spring practice ended
publicly announced that the prior years starting quarterback, the workmanlike but unspectacular
Dusty Bonner, was being benched in favor of a strong-armed true freshman named Jared
Lorenzen. No one had confused Bonner with Tim Couch, Mummes former star pupil and the
top overall draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, but Bonner had led the SEC in passing and
passing efficiency in his first year as a starter, and did it with an extremely depleted receiving
corps. Yet Mumme liked Lorenzens stronger arm, and he made his switch. Bonner had been a
pre-season All-SEC pick; if youre going to make a move like that, you better be right, or the
natives will be restless.
Kentuckys 2000 season went about as badly as can be imagined. Lorenzen had several huge
passing days including 528 yards against Georgia but almost all of them came in losing
efforts as Kentucky limped to a 2-9 record. (Dusty Bonner transferred over the summer to play
for Hatcher at Valdosta State, where he won the Harlan Hill trophy twice.) Worse still,
Claude Bassett, Mummes favored recruiting coordinator, was exposed in a variety of payola
scandals and a plethora of recruiting violations. On the field, Franklin and Mummes relationship
turned icy; despite Franklins title as offensive coordinator and Mummes role as playcaller, the
two of them essentially ceased speaking to each other for the entire second half of the season.
But things took a dramatic turn when the NCAA came calling on Kentucky.
Franklin: If you go back and you look at the $1,400 money order, how stupid, if youre going to
be a guy who is going to cheat, to sit and yell at someone across a hall to come to you, give them
$1,400 bucks and say, go send this to Tim Thompson at Melrose. I mean, thats to me, thats
publicly flaunting the cheating.
[...]
Farrey: Theres no love lost between Bassett and Franklin . . . but on this they agree cheating is
still common in some college football programs.
Bassett: Theres the pressure to go to bowl games. Theres the pressure to win the SEC East.
Theres the pressure to, you know, obviously now the thing we call the BCS. But to say that I
was one lone crazy guy, no, I dont buy into that.
Franklin: Was [Bassett] the only person who should be taking the fall? Absolutely not, and, you
know, I make that point in my book. I said in the book that I felt like that Coach Mumme knew.
Farrey: Franklin implicates the leadership at Kentucky. He cites a conversation last December
with Larry Ivy, Kentuckys athletic director.
Franklin: You know, we were talking about the Memphis situation and Mr. Ivy said to me, you
know, Every now and then you got to cheat to get a good player.
After the 2000 season Franklin resigned and Mumme and Bassett were fired**. Franklin found
himself, as he described it, blackballed from all coaching jobs. Franklin, essentially broke,
wrote a book about the ordeal, figuring his life in coaching was over. Franklin, however, got a
call from Probst, who asked if he wouldnt mind consulting for Hoover High School; much like
Bob Stoops hiring Mike Leach, Probst wants Franklin to help him install the Air Raid at Hoover
High. He does, and they do, and the rest all those state titles is history.
But Franklin didnt stop there. Seeing an opportunity he knows the offense and has proven it
can be taught at the high school level he began consulting with lots of schools and developing
lots of materials. Indeed, Franklin, tapping into that network of coaches that was the reason
Mumme hired him in the first place, packages, brands, and begins selling the Air Raid now,
The Tony Franklin System or simply, The System for around $3000 a team. But $3000 got
you more than just the plays (you could have always found those on Smart Football at least as far
back as 2003), but instead got you gobs of information, drill tapes, installation guides,
gameplans, and, most important of all, a direct line to Tony: Weekly calls to discuss whatever
problems your team was facing, what adjustments you needed to make, how you could make it
work. Remember, this was the early- to mid-2000s, and the changes we saw in the NFL and
college were even more dramatic at the high school levels. Areas of the south like Kentucky,
Alabama, or even Texas had been dominated by run-oriented programs for decades. Suddenly,
the pass was the thing, and how in the world do you teach the passing game to high school kids
without undergoing years of growing pains? Simple: You hire Tony, a successful college coach
with a simple, straightforward system and proven results, to hold your hand through the entire
process. And as it grew The System became about the community; not only did you go to Tony
and his coaching buddies for guidance, but you went to other clients of the Tony Franklin
System, other high school coaches going through exactly what you were going through.
Like almost everything about the Air Raid, it was and remains beautiful and simultaneously
extremely weird: Tony Franklin had to get fired, blackballed, and cast out of the coaching
community to arguably do more for the evolution of football at the high school and lower levels
than any coach of the last decade. While Mike Leachs teams throwing for 500 or 600 yards on
Saturdays was a great commercial for the Air Raid, it was Franklin that actually brought it to the
people though not without charging a fee for his valuable services.
And while at the beginning of their relationship it was Probst who had the privileged position
and it was Franklin who was desperate, life takes many turns. Probst was run out of Hoover after
his own set of scandals, while Franklin after a severe hiccup as the short-lived offensive
coordinator at Auburn is now again part of the establishment, both in terms of all coaches and
in Air Raid specific ones, as offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech under former Mike Leach
assistant Sonny Dykes. Im not sure what the lesson of Franklins career has been, other than, if
nothing else, never underestimate The System.
Dana Holgorsen: New Wave Deconstruction
Many of Mike Leachs assistants at Texas Tech have gone on to prominent gigs as offensive
coordinators and head coaches. But none are more interesting schematically and otherwise
than Dana Holgorsen. On the one hand, Holgorsens offense is in many ways bread-and-butter
Air Raid, and is based on many of the same key principles as offenses orchestrated by Mumme,
Leach, and each of Tony Franklins clients: repetitions, repetitions, and more repetitions, a
cohesive approach to practice management and installing an offense, and, yes, most of those key
Air Raid passing concepts. Moreover, many of those other Leach disciples who have gone on to
other jobs where they, and not Leach, called the plays have made changes to the offense,
primarily to either make the offense even more spread out with more no-back and other sets or to
diversify the run game and add some play-action.
On the other hand, however, Holgorsens attack is at once the same but different, and I can only
describe as a Derridean deconstruction of the Air Raid, rebuilt and repackaged and packaged
some more into something that is both familiar and very different. Many of the key Air Raid
plays are there for Dana Y-Cross, Y-Corner, Y-Stick, All-Curl (Holgorsen has actually
combined 96 All-Curl and 93 H-Wheel into the same play) but others, like Mesh, are not. The
reason? They were too different, and simply didnt fit, and were too expensive to practice.
Simple as that. In its place have come all manner of subtle variations on the Air Raid staples;
variations that have had unexpected benefits. But first lets place this innovation within the larger
setting. As he explains in the clip below, its all grounded in the same things Holgorsen learned
from Hal Mumme as a player at Iowa Wesleyan, though its only natural natural for him, at
least to put ones own spin on the offense.
Just like Leach and Mumme, Holgorsen installs his offense in three days and then repeats that
process throughout camp. And his time as Leachs eye-in-the-sky as Texas Techs offensive
coordinator well prepared them. But he hasnt hesitated to change things to fit his personnel,
sometimes drastically. And its this creative reassembly of the various Air Raid parts into a
coherent whole that has distinguished Holgorsens attack from other Air Raid spin-offs. The
most obvious version of this are the packaged plays, where two seemingly unrelated plays are
put together, such as Y-Stick combined with the offensive line blocking a draw play.

Once explained and as shown in the clips below, the wisdom of such a concept makes perfect
sense (also, offensive linemen are allowed to get three yards downfield on pass plays; its not
illegal). Specifically, its a run play, but, just like bubble screens or some particular blocking
schemes, the stick route controls the linebacker to take him out of the run play. And once one has
gone down that route, its a small leap to begin thinking about combining all sorts of concepts,
including quick passes and other runs, screens and runs, screens and quick passes, and so on.
Once your mind has gotten beyond the typical heuristics that tell us how football is supposed to
work, almost everything is on the table.
Michael Lewis famously said that Leachs offense was not just an offense; it was a mood:
optimism. Thats true, but also incomplete. The Air Raid is the ultimate optimists offense, but
the offense is also something else. Its a command to all of its practitioners to do one specific
thing, at least when it comes to football. The command is not unique to football, but it is rare
within it, and that command is to think different.
There are a lot of cool things to learn from Holgorsens offense, and Ive previously described
many of them. But for now lets just focus on the larger trend, and that is this idea of
deconstructing football. Whats amazing about Holgorsens offense is it is based on what is
undoubtedly one of the greatest passing systems every designed, but, by need and by desire, hes
had to get away from Mummes original idea, which was to drop back and throw it as many
times as possible. The primary reason is that such a tactic is no longer thinking different: in 1989
it was; in 1997 and 1998, in the SEC, it was; in the Big 12 in 1999, or 2003, or even in 2008,
when carried to the extremes Leach took it, it was. But in 2012 its not clear that it is different.
Holgorsen may or may not be successful as a head coach; I wouldnt be shocked if within a
couple of years some other hot shot Air Raider doesnt step up and take the mantle of brightest
young mind in that lineage away from him. Kliff Kingsbury, former Texas Tech quarterback
and assistant under Holgorsen, may earn the title if his teams have success at Texas A&M.
But for now, chew on this: In the Orange Bowl, where Holgorsens West Virginia squad
bombarded Clemson for 70 points with a variety of interesting tactics, and where his quarterback
racked up over 400 yards passing and six touchdown passes, how many true, Air Raid-style
dropback passes did they throw? And be careful, when you make your evaluation, because you
must study the offensive line on each play. On many of those downfield passes, the linemen did
not pass block at all, but instead faked a screen or a run-play for play-action, or some other
diversion. Holgorsen was not comfortable with his offensive lines play all year, so he
increasingly found ways to throw the ball and get players on the perimeter and in space, while
barely pass blocking at all. Study the game for yourself:
This is football deconstruction. Its taking the building blocks of the Air Raid, of football itself,
and placing them in slight variations we havent seen before. Theres no rule that football has to
look a certain way. In this game, the chess pieces can always do the unexpected.
The Future
I never knew about any of these guys before the 1997 football season at Kentucky. Portentously,
in the first quarter of the first game that season against Louisville, Kentucky scored three
touchdowns all passes. I cant say that I knew, roughly fifteen years ago, that this offense
would have such a dramatic effect on football itself and would remain so vital today. But what
makes it so interesting and so vital is that, unlike the great Tee-formation offenses, the
Wing-T, the Wishbone or even the Run-and-Shoot, is that the Air Raid has actually grown
beyond the original formations and plays that defined it early on. In that game against Louisville
I watched the classical version of the Air Raid in full bloom: two-back sets and the basic plays,
called by its inventor, Mumme, and in the first game no-less, the product of the offense having
been installed in three days back in the spring and fall of 1997. Leach stretched the classical idea
as far as it could go with more receivers, more passing, and even more fluidity, while Franklin
took the product to the legions of high school coaches who wanted to try it for themselves, and
each had their contributions to make. And now the latest generation, led by Holgorsen but by no
means limited to him, have begun the fascinating work of stripping the offense to its core just
a few plays, a method of practicing, and, above all else, the mood and command that underlie the
entire thing and rebuilding it back up for a modern game. The development of all ideas in
football works just like this, but rarely is the process so naked and apparent for careful study.
Maybe the most shocking thing about the Air Raid is that we now have three generations of Air
Raid coaches, all still coaching today: Mumme is at McMurry and Leach is now at Washington
State, while Dykes, Franklin, Hatcher, and Holgorsen, each former assistants for Mumme,
Leach, or both, now have their own programs and offenses to coordinate and their own wrinkles
to introduce. Were even looking at what might be fourth generation Air Raid coaches, as Kliff
Kingsbury at Texas A&M, Neal Brown at Texas Tech, and many, many others who maybe
played for Mumme or Leach or learned the system from coaches like Franklin and Holgorsen,
are now developing their own attacks. No one can stay ahead of the game forever, but these guys
and this off-beat, backyard offense have been doing it for an awful long time, scoring an
awful lot of points, and winning an awful lot of games. And that may be the weirdest thing of all.
Air Raid Appendix:
Links from Bruce Eiens website: (A) Play and concept diagrams, (B) Explanation of the
Airraid shallow cross concept, (C) Airraid for High School (quick diagrams of some
core pass concepts).
Playbooks: (A) 2000 Valdosta St (Chris Hatcher); (B) 1999 Oklahoma (Mike Leach); (C)
2001 Hoover High School (Rush Probst HC).
Archive of Smart Football articles tagged as Airraid here and here
Kentuckys Airraid Offense AFCA Clinic article by Chris Hatcher, Tony Franklin,
and Guy Morris.
Hal Mummes Airraid Practice Plan
Valdosta States Passing Attack Chris Hatcher article on the shallow and the mesh
concepts.
Leach and Tech Flying High Article by Bob Davie on Texas Techs offense
Quarterbacks reading is done on field at Texas Tech Washington Post article
Coach Leach Goes Deep, Very Deep Profile of Mike Leach for the New York Times
Magazine by the always excellent Michael Lewis.
Running Back Routes in the Airraid American Football Monthly article by Hal
Mumme
Dana Holgorsens West Virginia Air Raid Offense
Why Every Team Should Install Its Offense in Three Days
Brophys Air Raid Archive
** Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tony Franklin was fired at
Kentucky. He resigned.
BYU Appendix:
Below are the major Airraid/BYU concepts combined with Norm Chows reads for each. Note
that this more closely hews to the original BYU version than the Airraid version, which has
slight differences. If you cant figure out the differences after reading all of the above, then
heaven help you. (Thanks to Bruce Eien for some of the diagrams.)
61 Y OPTION

5 step drop. Eye Y and throw it to him unless taken away from the outside by S/S (then hit Z),
OR inside by ILB (then hit FB). Dont throw option route vs. man until receiver makes eye
contact with you. Vs. zone can put it in seam. Vs. zone no hitch step. Vs. man MAY need
hitch step.
62 MESH

5 step drop. Take a peek at F/S if hes up hit Z on post. Otherwise watch X-Y mesh occur
somebody will pop open let him have ball. Vs. zone throw to Fullback.
63 DIG

5 step drop and hitch (7 steps permissible). Read F/S: X = #1; Z = #2; Y OR HB = #3.
64 OUT

5 step drop. Key best located Safety on 1st step. Vs. 3 deep look at F/S if he goes weak go
strong (Z = #1 to FB = #2 off S/S); if he goes straight back or strong go weak (X = #1 to HB =
#2 off Will LB). Vs. 5 under man Y is your only choice. Vs. 5 under zone X & Z will fade.
65 FLOOD (Y-Sail)

5 step drop and hitch. Read the S/S. Peek at Z #1; Y = #2; FB = #3. As you eyeball #2 & see
color (F/S flash to Y) go to post to X. Vs. 2 deep zone go to Z = #1 to Y = #2 off S/S.
66 ALL CURL

5 step drop and hitch. On your first step read Mike LB (MLB or first LB inside Will in 3-4). If
Mike goes straight back or strong go weak (X = #1; HB = #2). If Mike goes weak go strong
(Y = #1; Z = #2; FB = #3). This is an inside-out progression. NOT GOOD vs. 2 deep 5 under.
67 CORNER/POST/CORNER (Shakes)

5 step drop and hitch. Read receiver (WR) rather than defender (Corner). Vs. 2 deep go from Y =
#1 to Z = #2. Vs. 3 deep read same as 64 pass (Will LB) for X = #1 or HB = #2. Equally good
vs Cover 2 regardless if man OR zone under.
68 SMASH

5 step drop and hitch. Vs. 2 deep look HB = #1; FB = #2 (shoot); Z = #3. Vs. 3 deep stretch
long to short to either side. Vs. man go to WRs on returns.
69 Y-CROSS/H-Option

5 step drop hitch up only if you need to. Eye HB: HB = #1; Y = #2. QB & receiver MUST
make eye contact vs. man. Vs. zone receiver finds seam (takes it a little wider vs. 5 under).
Only time you go to Y is if Will LB and Mike LB squeeze HB. If Will comes & F/S moves over
on HB HB is HOT and will turn flat quick and run away from F/S. Otherwise HB runs at his
man to reinforce his position before making his break.
Here is an article from LaVell Edwards describing the concept.
Related Posts:
Combining quick passes, run plays and screens in the same play
Dana Holgorsens West Virginia Airraid offense
Snag, stick, and the importance of triangles (yes, triangles) in the passing game
Teaching a quarterback where to throw the football
Quarterbacks checklist on pass plays