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The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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"The most entertaining book on football this decade."
—Allen Barra, The Dallas Morning News
“Excellent sports history . . . an inspiring reminder that great ideas don't automatically permeate the existing ideology. Sometimes a devoted few must pursue their principles with diligence, even if they don't get the glory.”
“It is undeniable that the Air Raid, the fast passing game, and the frequency of the forward pass are now imprinted on football, especially, as Gwynne notes, on the college level though also in the NFL. That makes his subtitle all the more fitting, for undeniably, the two coaches changed the game—and brought glory to their institutions. A superb treat for all gridiron fans.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A rousing tale of innovation finding success in the face of the gale-force winds of convention."
"The Perfect Pass is a perfect book about football—and the transformative power of innovation. S.C. Gwynne brings the same remarkable reporting and storytelling skills he used in Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell to reveal the dramatic history behind the passing revolution that disrupted and forever changed America’s favorite sport. His portrait of Hal Mumme, the unknown underdog coach who unleashed the Air Raid offense on the modern game, is superb, at once capturing the passion and genius that made him an unsung hero of his generation."
—Brian D. Sweany, editor in chief, Texas Monthly
"When we played against a Hal Mumme offense, our defense had to be changed dramatically. You had to throw away everything you knew or you were going to get beat. Every offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in football better study this book to find out why."
—Jerry Glanville, former NFL and college head coach
“Being a football coach who innovates against the way the game has long been played is deeply challenging. S.C. Gwynne captures perfectly how Hal Mumme's Air Raid offense helped change the landscape of college football forever. It's a great story.”
—Bruce Arians, head coach, Arizona Cardinals
"Hal Mumme has always been a true American genius, and every year teams running his offense are among the tops in yards and points. I know, because I would've liked to have hired him. He has a brilliant football mind, and here at last is his amazing story, told in full."
—Bob Stoops, head coach, University of Oklahoma
"If you are a coach, a manager, an entrepreneur, an executive, an MBA student, etc. looking for a real life example of thinking way outside the box and changing your industry or field completely, then The Perfect Pass is the book for you. Read it, digest it, and then apply it to your life’s work."
—Texas History Page
"The tale of Hal Mumme and how he changed American football is a David and Goliath story with similarities to Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and its number-crunching general manager, Billy Beane. That was a different sport and era, but both Beane and Mumme found themselves in underdog positions and used creative, out-of-the-box thinking to level the playing field."
"Along with his protégé Mike Leach, now the head coach at Washington State University, Mr. Mumme revolutionized their sport in ways that, frankly, dwarf the legacy of Billy Beane and his gang from 'Moneyball.'"
—The Wall Street Journal
"Informative and entertaining and a must read for anyone interested in the inner game of football strategy....If you are a football coach, football fan or simply a guy who likes a good story, S.C. Gwynne scored a touchdown."
—Tony DeMeo, American Football Monthly
“Gwynne masterfully reports how this eccentric offensive genius, who became college football’s youngest offensive coordinator as a 29-year-old at UTEP and who espouses heretical notions such as no weightlifting and very short practices without hitting or wind sprints, followed his own path and put passing at the forefront to runaway success. His stamp is everywhere, even in the NFL.”
About the Author
S.C. Gwynne is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife.
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Top Customer Reviews
More than just the story of Mumme, though, Gwynne delves deep into the history of the forward pass in football, from its legalization (and disdain) in the early 20th century and its evolution through famous figures like Bill Walsh, LaVell Edwards, and Mouse Davis to more obscure names like Jack Neumeier, Red Faught, and Dutch Meyer. He traces the evolution and slow uptick in passing throughout the decades, even as the pioneers who aired it faced constant skepticism from purists who thought their approach wasn't merely unsound strategy, but also faintly immoral.
We see the young Mumme giving up a lucrative sales job as a young man to embark on his personal odyssey in coaching, paying his dues through a string of hard-won but precarious jobs that paid next to nothing, as he met and studied the works of those masters who'd came before. All of it to pursue a vision that began as both a passion and a vague notion: to throw the football and throw it more often and better than anyone had ever done before. This book tells the story of Mumme toiling in obscurity, constantly studying and criss-crossing the country to learn and refine his system, putting in the time in the woodshed like all great artists do.
This is a good read for anyone interested in studying the history of the passing game. Gwynne's style is crisp and a fun read, but don't expect a lot of memorable turns of phrase here. Some of the history that Gwynne cites in regards to Mumme also seems to be fudged a bit, and with little knowledge of his subject before he began writing this book, Gwynne seems to heap a bit too much praise and credit onto Mumme, delving into constant hyperbole while glossing over the man's faults and failings (which would make him a more interesting subject of a biography) and ending, oddly, on Mumme's high point as a coach: his first Kentucky team's 1997 upset of Alabama (which was in the middle of one of its worst seasons in years, it turns out, but Gwynne doesn't tell you that, either) that came in the midst of a 5-7 season.
That's odd because the next 19 years of Mumme's career, which was a spectacular fall from grade that is probably a compelling book in its own right, gets glossed over in a brief epilogue at the end, such as when he says that Kentucky team in 2001 had lost a lot of talent the year before (justifying the 2-9 record), but he fails to mention that Mumme brought much of that on himself by running off players and, inexplicably, benching his returning All SEC QB Dustin Bonner in favor of 300lb freshman interception machine Jared Lorenzen. Hal Mumme is a brilliant, fascinating, transformative figure in football history whose career has been tragically defined by his own hubris and apparent inability to get out of his own way, but Gwynne doesn't even touch upon that angle here, leaving this book a shell of what it could have been.
Gwynne also fails to delve into the reasons why the Air Raid offense, which has traditionally had a pretty mediocre record in terms of winning percentage, continued to spread and grow ever more popular even as Mumme's star fell further and further. The lack of any mention of Tony Franklin, an assistant coach who was a big part of Mumme's downfall at Kentucky and later popularized the offense by packaging and selling it to high school and college coaches eager to learn "the system" also seems like a glaring omission.
Still, if you want to learn how the passing game evolved into the wide open offenses we see everywhere today or come to a better understanding of how art and football intersect, you will definitely want to read this book.