Time will tell whether Phil Longo’s version of the Air Raid offense will work at Ole Miss anywhere nearly as successfully as it has at Sam Houston State and Longo’s other stops along a long, winding coaching road.

But trust me on this: If it doesn’t work, it’s not because Longo has never coached at the NCAA FCS level before.

Rick Cleveland Credit: Melanie Thortis

Everything is relative in football coaching. Yes, the 46-year-old Longo will call his plays against better talent in the SEC than in the Southland Conference. But he will be running those plays with more talented players at Ole Miss than he had at Sam Houston.

The field is still 100 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. The game still lasts 60 minutes.

“They said the same thing about me when I moved from Valdosta State to Kentucky,” Belhaven’s Hal Mumme said. “They said my stuff would never work in the SEC.”

Belhaven University football coach Hal Mumme Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Mumme’s offenses at Kentucky set school, SEC and NCAA records for passing and total offense. In his first season, Kentucky beat Alabama for the first time in 75 years. Yes, Mumme was eventually fired at Kentucky, but it wasn’t because his plays didn’t work.

“They said the same thing when Mike Leach left me at Kentucky to go to Oklahoma as the offensive coordinator,” Mumme said. “Oklahoma had been a running program with the wishbone and the sports writers and sportscasters said that the Air Raid offense would never work in that conference.

“Three years later, Oklahoma won the national championship running the Air Raid.”

And now practically everyone in the Big 12 runs a version of the Air Raid.

“The geometry of the offense works at any level,” Mumme said. “I don’t know him but I’ve heard great things about what Longo has done at Sam (Houston). And I know this. I saw the Egg Bowl and that young quarterback at Ole Miss is absolutely perfect to run our offense.”

The Air Raid offense Mumme and Leach began to perfect at Iowa Wesleyan had been tinkered with by several different coaches. At Sam Houston, Longo has incorporated much more of a running game into the offense. For a more in-depth look at Longo’s tinkering, read this story by Bruce Feldman on foxsports.com.

The guess here is that Longo will be a good fit for Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. The quarterback and receivers to run the offense are in place.

The bigger question is defense. And it says here that problem will not be solved by X’s and O’s but by Jimmys and Joes.

Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.