Hal Mumme watches his Air Raid offense perform in Jackson State spring game.

Hal Mumme, bespectacled and with his long, grayish blond locks blowing every which way in the wind, looked as much the part of mad professor as football coach at Jackson State’s spring football game Sunday.

He was more professorial than coach-like along the sidelines, too, rarely raising his voice, just calmly signaling in plays, which were, of course, mostly passes.

Jackson State is Mumme’s 14th stop in a 42-year coaching career that has taken him from such outposts as Copperas Cove (Texas) High School, to Iowa Wesleyan, to Valdosta State, to Kentucky, to New Mexico State, to Belhaven and now Jackson State, with several other stops along the way.

Most of that time has been spent as a head coach. Now, at Jackson State, he is back to being an offensive coordinator, which, he said, is his comfort zone.

“It’s a blast,” Mumme says. “I had forgotten how much fun it is to just coach the offense.”

Mumme sounded like a man definitely in his element.

“I think this is the best group of skill kids (wide receivers and backs) I’ve ever inherited at any place,” Mumme said. “It’s a matter of getting them on the same page. We have outstanding, young receivers who can really run. We’ve some good backs, and I really like our quarterbacks. We’ve got the people to do what we want to do.”

Rick Cleveland

And that is run the famed Air Raid offense, which Mumme and Washington State coach Mike Leach cooked up while at Iowa Wesleyan in 1989, borrowing heavily from the passing scheme of BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards. No matter what else happens in Mumme’s career – at Jackson State or elsewhere – he forever will be known as co-inventor of an offensive system that has in many ways revolutionized football. Mumme and Leach started it at tiny NAIA Iowa Wesleyan but it has now spread all over.

No lesser an authority than Bob Stoops once said, “Hal Mumme has always been a true American genius, and every year teams running his offense are among the tops in yards and points.”

If you saw Alabama beat Georgia in last year’s national championship game, you saw two SEC heavyweights that traditionally used power-oriented, running offenses, borrow from the Air Raid throughout the thrilling, overtime contest.

Now days, almost every offense you see runs from the shotgun formation, spreads the field and goes fast with no huddle. Most throw it at least half the time.

For Jackson State, that probably will be 70 to 75 percent of the time, maybe more.

“It depends on who you’re playing and how they line up,” Mumme said. “I normally call about 70 percent passes.”

In the Air Raid, the quarterback has the authority to change the call at the line of scrimmage, depending on what he sees from the defense. Receivers also can “read” the defense and change their pass patterns accordingly.

As head coach at Kentucky, Mumme used the offense to beat Alabama, a team the Wildcats had not defeated in 74 years.

Critics surely will point out that Mumme’s coaching tenures have not always ended well. That was the case at Belhaven where his teams won two games a season for four years. They were a combined 8-33. But those teams also set offensive records and often lost by scores 45-37 and 63-45. Belhaven scored plenty but couldn’t stop the other team. Now, Mumme’s charge will be to score plenty and it will be someone else’s job to stop the other team.

Tony Hughes and his JSU players during traditional post-game alma mater

Jackson State has played decent – and sometimes outstanding – defense during Tony Hughes’ two seasons. They have been an offensive mess. Last season, the Tigers were dead-last in the SWAC in scoring offense (12.7 points per game and total offense (232 yards per game).

That’s going to change. Bet on it. Those numbers will increase significantly.

Hughes knows what he’s getting in Mumme. He was on the defensive staff at West Alabama in 1992 and 1993, the first two years Mumme was the head coach at Valdosta State. Both years, Valdosta State used the Air Raid to score 42 points and defeat West Alabama by four touchdowns.

It will be Hughes’ job to blend Mumme’s offense with an already sound defense. Jackson State hasn’t won a SWAC overall championship since 2007. If Hughes does his job and Mumme does his, perhaps that will change.

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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 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.