Kansas Air Raid woes don't start in the air


Several Baylor players celebrate over Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) after sacking him during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium.

Several Baylor players celebrate over Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley (9) after sacking him during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2017 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Spending my entire adult life reporting on sports usually means I seek other topics, often true crime, when looking to become lost in a book. When I make exceptions, it's often to educate myself on a work-related topic.

Since Kansas technically runs an Air Raid offense, I decided to give "The Perfect Pass" by S.C. Gwynne, a shot. Friend Joe Reitz, retired University of Kansas faculty member and founder of Lawrence Family Promise, a wonderful charity designed at helping homeless and low-income families to reach sustainable independence, lent me his copy.

A beautifully written, well-researched, breezy read that centers on the origins of the Air Raid through the careers of the offense's creator, Hal Mumme, and sidekick Mike Leach, the most famous Air Raid practitioner.

Leach, then 28, and wife Sharon had one child and another on the way when Leach went to work for Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan. Leach was armed with a law degree, but not interested in a suit-and-tie career when, fresh off coaching in Finland, he accepted a $12,000 salary, plus free housing, a "moldy one-room trailer."

Wrote Gwynne: "Located in a junk-strewn trailer park, it was engulfed by three-foot high weeds. The bedroom was carpeted with grubby, two-inch-deep, blood-red shag. The ceiling fan was mounted so low that the blades would sometimes hit Leach in the face when he crossed the room."

From such humble beginnings, Mumme and Leach went on to change the way football is played.

The offense, when taught and executed properly, stretched the field horizontally and vertically in such a way that teams with lesser talent were able to score improbable upsets.

Rob Likens, David Beaty's first offensive coordinator at Kansas, and Doug Meacham, are among the Air Raid assistant coaches mentioned in the book.

I still don't understand the Air Raid offense, but I grew an understanding of why KU's version of it doesn't work. Two sentences on page 156 hit me like one of those thanks-I-needed-that cold slaps in the face from the old Skin Bracer after shave commercials: "As offensive line coach, Leach was an integral — Hal often thought the integral — part of the passing attack. If (Dustin) Dewald didn't get three or more seconds, there was no offense."

There you have it. Neither Likens nor Meacham was the source of the failure of the Air Raid at Kansas. If the blocks aren't there, the air is filled with three-and-out failures. (A noticeable increase dropped passes didn't help either).

Beaty inherited a roster sorely lacking in offensive linemen. The quantity of blockers has been upgraded, but so far the quality hasn't kept pace. Will that change with an extra year of growth in the weight room and in mastering technique on the practice field? We'll see.

Center Mesa Ribordy, who came to KU as a walk-on tight end, has been KU's most consistent offensive lineman. The Jayhawks will have 11 offensive lineman who came to KU on scholarship, all but one (Jacob Bragg) recruited since Beaty took the job, participating in spring football.

It's not known whether Kansas will stick with the Air Raid. This much is certain: If the offensive line doesn't improve significantly, there is no offense.


Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago


Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

Let the TK bashing begin from all the Beaty butt kissers on this site. "Hey Tom why do you keep pointing out the obvious you should write positive articles" Blah blah blah.

Marc Frey 1 year, 4 months ago

Great article. Glad to see what most of us have witness expressed by someone with knowledge of the game. Although Football 101 is to have a great QB, but no line means no pass or no running. We have been a textbook of this for the last 8 years.

David Kemp 1 year, 4 months ago

No doubt. Look at the lines leach had at tech and they surrrounded their qbs with genetic freaks from The Longest Yard. We are lucky if our lines can give a qb 1-2 seconds, hence can’t pass cant run. Can’t blame meacham he only can use the cards dealt him. Not impressed Yenser can coach up.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

The best thing for Beaty to say every time someone ask about the team in the spring and summer is to just say "We are getting ready for the season" and that's it. Not and so is doing this, our offense looks like this so and so and so is improving, we are going to a bowl game. He talked up everything last year and it was a disaster QB O OL D ST everything, just keep quiet and maybe we will all be pleasantly surprised this year. If you are told that your blind date is a 10 and a 5 shows up then youre disappointed. If you are told nothing then maybe a 5 is a pleasant surprise.

Jeff Coffman 1 year, 4 months ago

1 win....would have been disappointing no matter what he said. If he said we were going to win only one game last year, we would still have been disappointed. If he can't improve the team, he shouldn't be our coach.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

I hear you Jeff so does everyone else too bad the administration doesn't. How is it going to look if they finally get rid of him either during the season or after next year. They will look so incompetent giving him another year and the bs they fed us in justifying keeping him another year. My God there is already a debate if we can even beat Nicholls State next year. If the team loses or struggles in that game he should be gone. With another year field experience, training, coaching and being in the system if they can't beat them then the writing is on the wall. There is no progress bye bye.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

How about one win with a couple of close loses ie last second field goal or hanging around at least until the fourth quarter with real progress shown. in most games. Not just a blow out from the opening kick?

Gunnar Hays 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanks for the article, Tom. I am definitely going to check this book out. I've always liked the idea of the air raid offense, and love him or hate him, Mike Leach is undeniably one of the more interesting characters in college football.

When I was playing high school 8 man football in Western Kansas, a few teams we played were starting to experiment with a more spread out style. I was always jealous because we played extremely conservative run heavy I-Formation type football.

Either way, having success offensively starts in the trenches with the lineman. Hopefully, another year of development for the KU offensive line will translate to some offensive success. I guess time will tell.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 4 months ago

I watched the Army-Navy game last weekend, a real treat and a bit of a precursor to the snow bowl in Buffalo.

Those offensive systems are also designed to allow teams to succeed without the highest-level talent. I prefer them to the Air Raid because run-blocking can be achieved more easily than trying to develop tackles who can protect for 3 seconds. And, as a matter of personal taste, I just prefer watching the ball on the ground - it's just a lot more interesting to me.

If Beaty does not survive next year, then a serious look needs to be given to Jeff Monken from Army. He's built a successful program with guys who will never play a down in the NFL and probably. In fact, his last two recruiting classes didn't contain a single 3-star athlete. And yet, he wins.

Kansas needs to do something drastic. Monken would drastically change KU football for the better by giving us one of the most unique offenses in the country.

Gunnar Hays 1 year, 4 months ago

While personally I like spread offenses, I agree with you completely. Monken has proven himself as a very good coach. Also, when executed properly, the option offense isn't easy to defend. Monken was an assistant under Johnson at Georgia Tech, who also has fairly consistent success in the ACC without necessarily always being the more talented team.

Bryson Stricker 1 year, 4 months ago

While I do understand and mostly agree with your point.

If we switched to an option offense, either the Spread Option or Triple Option, we would NEVER be an above average football team again.

While being average or even below average sounds ever so appetizing right now, I think we can all agree we want to reach "good" status sometime in the future. The triple option/spread option would be effective if we got good at it against our noncon opponents and teams like Tech, ISU, Baylor and maybe even WVU. But the rest of our conference would maybe struggle with it for a year or two but eventually begin to eat our sh** up and we would get pummeled just like we are now.

Georgia Tech succeeded when the ACC was a basketball conference that included FSU and Miami. They now are arguably one of the best if not the best consistent football conference.

I don't think your idea is bad/wrong. Just don't think it would lead to long term success.

Bruce Bertsch 1 year, 4 months ago

IMHO the greatest weakness that KU has is its O-Line coach. Harkening back to the Mangino Era, Mark was the rushing OC at KSU before moving to OC at OU. He also coached the O-LIne. Some guy named Warriner coached the o-line during the Reesing years and moved on to some little school named The Ohio State University where he was Co- OC and coached the O-Line. We need an upgrade not only in bodies but in coaching. Even if you are running the "Air Raid" your O-line needs to be aggressive and attack. Those two words would not be used in describing the offensive line since the arrival of Beaty.

Jeff Coffman 1 year, 4 months ago

The greatest weakness we have is a Chancellor that doesn't care.

Joe Norgay 1 year, 4 months ago

And an athletic director with no clue.

Joe Norgay 1 year, 4 months ago

Beaty's insistence on doing the air raid is among his worst qualities and that's saying something.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

The quality of a coach is that he sees the talent that he has and develops a system to fit that talent. Not have a system and try to fit players into it that dont fit the system in the first place. Our coach in a nutshell.

John Brazelton 1 year, 4 months ago

Everyone one this site calls for Beaty to recruit HS players instead of JUCOs. Then you gripe because our O-Line isn't as good as everyone else's in the Big 12. It takes three years to get an offensive lineman ready to play, unless you can recruit 4-star athletes. Hopefully, the O-line will be ready next year, 5 to 7 players, without a huge number of injuries.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

How many games were there last year when the opposing team rushed 3 and the KU line still couldn't block them. 5 on 3 and yet the qb still ran for his life.

Kevin Robert Fest 1 year, 4 months ago

The week before, Ohio embarrassed the Jayhawk offensive line and ESPN’s C’mon man featured their inept play. Iowa State and TCU also had their way with the Jayhawk line. The Jayhawks had just 5 first downs against the Cyclones. They had 4 first downs in Fort Worth with just 21-yards of total offense.

Find someone who can block

The 2017 roster included 19 offensive linemen but were inexperienced. They certainly didn’t get the job done for line coach Zach Yenser. Three of them were seniors. It won’t matter who Beaty recruits if he doesn’t get some blockers.


Bryson Stricker 1 year, 4 months ago

Do you realize who those three seniors on the offensive line are?

Also keep in mind that the TRUE JUNIORS and REDSHIRT SOPHOMORES on our OLine you can not blame Beaty for at all if you want to be any what fair to him in this process. A coach who started recruiting 9 days ago, 3 years ago, can't be faulted for not being able to find good talent at the hardest position to judge talent at in football. You, like many are pissed off about where we are at in recruiting right now, given that he had a whole offseason and season to recruit. But then won't give him the benefit of realizing he had neither 3 years ago.

Our OLine is tremendously bad but nobody that Beaty and his staff had actually gotten a chance to evaluate and then mature via redshirt and sitting out 1-2 years has even popped up on our radar yet.

Thanks for your time.

[''] 1 year, 4 months ago

It's actually spelled ERROR RAID because we were among the bottom 10 nationally in turnover margin. You're welcome.

Robert Brock 1 year, 4 months ago

The air in KU’s Air Raid is a gas coming out of the back orifice.

Keshawn Sewell 1 year, 4 months ago

Kansas picked up a nice committment today from a High school kid at Wichita Collegiate. I was actually good friends with his dad who recenty passed away. Cody McNerny. Nice dual threat QB. 36 inch vertical, 4.5 40 yard dash and 285lb bench press. Great Basketball player as well. Has potential to be a kid that goes under radar and fight for playing time. Good kid. Rockchalk.

Mike Bennett 1 year, 4 months ago

Finally, I've been telling you for 2+ years. It's NOT THE QB. No one can consistently throw and move the ball when 5 OL can't block 3-4 DL. You have to have time to spread the field or the defenses just smother the short zones. BTW, this also kills your running game as it allows more defenders to crowd the line. We've hit our share of bombs, but we can't rely on bombs when things were blocked, but they are few and far between.

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