Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Perfect Pass

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This new book by respected author S. C. Gwynnne, tells the story of how one high school coach with an innate ability to adapt was able to have possibly the greatest influence on American football in the history of the game.

Gwynne tells the story of Hal Munne, a still unheralded coach who took his game changing system of pass pass and then pass again from high school football to Division III to the echelons of the SEC conference.

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Yet this is not just a story or book to celebrate the theory that Munne has done his work, Gwynne takes us back to the beginning of football in America; how it was a ground and pound game that was violent beyond belief yet was instilled with the American values that you play through pain and broken bones and do not show signs of injury.  In stark contrast now, where any physical sort of play is deemed as unsafe to both the perpetrator and the target.

Football was and in some quarters does remain a stubborn beast, chapters show us how slow the club of football coaches was to change in the idea of schemes and afraid to embrace these new ideas which could bring a freshness to campuses and organisations. In the history of college football, the norm was to have a three down back who would run, run and run some more, these workhorses would carry programs to National championships.

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Hal Munne - inventor of the Air Raid
Slowly though the tide has changed but it has been a gradual change to implement Munne's now famous Air Raid system, yet the author is at pains to make you aware that a high octane passing offence has always been around just not paramount. Be it the Air Coryell at the San Diego Chargers up to the world famous West Coast offense by Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice becoming legends.

Now what is the difference between Walsh and Munne is the complexity of the two systems. One has a playbook of 500 plays and is a labyrinth of out-thinking the opposition in the tradition of strategic combat that the NFL is, whilst Munne's system is a simplistic model based on read options for the quarterback embracing accuracy and efficiency beyond anything else. The quarterback will have his options from one to five, he starts at one and if he is open he passes to him. If he is not open, he goes to two and so on. A receiver, one of three wide receivers and then a running back catching in the screen and another half back.

The assignments for each player on offense is simple, following the ethos of Bill Belichick ('Do your job'), the lineman give time to the quarterback to pass with accuracy. The receivers get open, the backs block on rising linebackers, the quarterback releases the ball quickly. That is another facet of the Air Raid, the quarterback plays fast and because he has a smaller playbook to memorise he has less things to remember meaning there is no huddle, therefore the offense is always ready to play. Sometimes they call the same play on consecutive occasions, but because the ball is going to perhaps alternative receivers the defence cannot keep up nor anticipate what is coming next. The defence also become gassed and exhausted because the offence is not allowing substitutions of personnel on the defence.

Another often misleading accusation of the Air Raid is that running backs do not get great numbers, on the contrary, Munne's running backs at the college level would easily surpass the 1000 yard milestone with ease and on lesser carries than traditional three-down workhorses.

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Now Munne's influence is rampant in the NFL but was started by Chip Kelly who high octane no huddle offence at Oregon brought him to national prominence and his eventual employment by Philadelphia Eagles and now the 49ers. Quarterbacks are getting better at releasing the ball quickly, allowing them to extend careers as they take less hits as you see from Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
Brady was never thought of as a big number passer yet he is consistently throwing over 4500 yards as does Brees.

Yet Munne never got the acclaim he deserved, his assistant Mike Leach is more well known and it was his conversation and discussion with Gwynne that led to this book being written. Munne has suffered divorce, cancer, and is now coaching back in Division III yet still getting results and numbers unheard of.

While he might live in relevant obscurity, hopefully Gwynne's fascinating book will bring Hal Munne the recognition he deserves.

The Perfect Pass is published by Scribner Press part of the Simon & Schuster family.

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