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The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football
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The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  112 reviews
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

In the tradition of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, award-winning historian S.C. Gwynne tells the incredible story of how two unknown coaches revolutionized American football at every level, from high school to the NFL.

Hal Mumme is one of a handful of authentic offensive geniuses in the history of American football. The Perfect P
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Scribner (first published 2016)
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
This book is so obviously influenced by Michael Lewis that it could have been annoying. But Gwynne is amazingly convincing in plucking a name out of obscurity and pronouncing him responsible for modern, pass-happy game of (American) football: and it isn't the late Bill Walsh. Rather, this is a bio of a high school and college coach named Hal Mumme, whose motto "Play the Next Play" is both a name for the hurry-up and a metaphor for optimism.

Mumme (rhymes with mummy) never became a big-time coach,
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fun history of the career of somewhat obscure football coach Hal Mumme, the principal innovator of the Air Raid offense that has transformed football at every level. The book follows Hal Mumme through his peripatetic career from Iowa Wesleyan to Kentucky and then back down the ladder swiftly.

Gwynne does an excellent job of interweaving football strategy (complete with graphic diagrams of key plays) with better character development than I would expect to find in a football book.
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010s, dewey600s, sports
Would have rated it 3 stars for the football history lesson. Adding a 4th star due to the Mouse Davis references.
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Finally a book about football that is as well written as a book about baseball, almost. Sam Gwynne tells the story of the mostly anonymous man behind the biggest revolution in football, the evolution of the forward pass. This is an entertaining, well-told tale with a narrative of rags to richest to rags again that would not be believed if it were fiction. The man at the center of the story is Hal Mummy, a small time college football staffer who had dreams of creating a pass first offense. Gwynne ...more
Josh Liller
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: football
I picked this up because I saw it on the new non-fiction shelf at my local public library and it sounded like a fun change of pace from some of the heavier history I had been reading lately (and it was). "Perfect Pass" is the story of Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, and the Air Raid offense of college and high school football. Mumme and right-hand-man Leach developed the offense in podunk Iowa Wesleyan and little known Valdosta State before breaking out with bigger name schools like Kentucky Wildcats, Ok ...more
Oct 01, 2016 rated it liked it
I very interesting story about a influential football coach and thinker Hal Mumme. And there are two threads in the book: one focused on Mumme's coaching career through high school and obscure colleges before a brief stint at Kentucky in the SEC; and another focused on the development of his famous Air Raid offense. Both are fascinating. The brutal reality of trying to climb the ranks of college football coaching is illustrated by Mumme's career. The incredible pressure to produce wins by recrui ...more
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports-books
(4.5) Probably doesn't make a lot of sense to start a football book review by discussing a baseball one but what made Moneyball so great (and what makes this one so damn good) is NOT the talk about how Billy Beane was a genius among fools, rather it was how the underfunded, understaffed Athletics exploited a badly inequitable system for gain. Beane saw abilities that were underutilized in players and he pounced because Oakland did not have the money to compete with the big boys.

This book gets t
Bill Ahlberg
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you thought this was a sports book, you'd be correct. But then you'd be missing the complete story. Here, Mr. Gwynn reminds us that the world is ever changing, and that innovation is not just important, but actually necessary to continue to be relevant.
I'm a little surprised to have just finished two books from the same author on two such disparate subjects as Stonewall Jackson and Football's forward pass, until I realized that they both talked to innovation. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson prope
Scott Browne
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A must read for football fans! The biggest flaw is that the author stops the detail when the story could have been better (Kentucky years and Leach's Tech years). ...more
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very fast read, didn't understand a lot of the plays he outlined here but that is fine. Makes me want to yell at NFL games more. You're all dumb! and overpaid! ...more
Mary Freeman
Jan 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I doubled my knowledge of football by reading this book. I am not usually a sports reader, but this was a quick read with lots of interesting anecdotes and people.
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, biography, history
Play the next play...

This is the story of how a college coach, Hal Mumme, developed an “unstoppable” offense that would defeat even the biggest, strongest defenses; and of how that offense gradually spread throughout college football and into the professional leagues, changing the very nature of the game – the Air Raid offense.

Sometimes you just have to take the things life throws at you and run with them. When SC Gwynne won my Book of the Year award in 2014 for Rebel Yell, his brilliant biograp
Nov 13, 2017 added it
This is an examination of how passing the football has taken over from the run in American football. Author Gwynne shows how it happened by focussing on little known college coach Hal Mumme who took small schools Iowa Wesleyan and Valdosta State College (Georgia) to unexpected heights of success by throwing the football up to 70% of the time. Gwynne details the history of offensive tactics back to football's earliest days noting the persistent bias against throwing-in favour of running- a bias t ...more
Christopher Barry
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Somehow a book about football, and more specifically, the forward pass, was a total pageturner. I didn't want to put this down. It was a book-length version of "this New Yorker article looks somewhat interesting, I'll start it and see what happens... oh... look at that, I read the entire thing."

While it might be too sportsing for the non-sportsy reader, it's got enough explanation of the sportsball to help anyone (like me) who somehow picks this up and realizes they want to read the story but d
Tyler N
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the novel. I will be moving away from sport stories and this was my last.
Mike Kershaw
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Football Genius: Earlier this year, the Atlanta Falcons, an NFL franchise that has only been to the Super Bowl once (a defeat to the Denver Broncos), routed the Green Bay Packers in the final football game to be played in the Georgia Dome. The Packers were coming off an impressive 'come from behind' victory over the favored Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium (affectionately known as "Jerry's World”) the week before. Led by their Hall of Fame bound Quarterback Aaron Rogers, the Packers dismantle ...more
Steve Johnson
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you love football, this is an interesting read on the development of the modern passing offense by someone a lot of NFL fans (or college fans outside the Southeast) probably aren't familiar with. If you liked how Moneyball explained aspects of baseball, you'll love how Gwynne tells the story of Air Raid offenses in this book. ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book
Very good book. Listened on audible. Good for sports fans and anyone interested in innovation cycles too.
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
No matter what level of football a fan follows, it has become very clear that the forward pass is now an integral part of the game. To many, this has made the game more exciting and to others, it simply brings more variation to the offense than the smash-mouth type of game that was espoused by coaches and players alike for the first several decades the game was played.

However, it wasn’t an easy time to get the game to where it is today as many who wanted to make passing a bigger part of the gam
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
Maybe its a four star book, but I'll stretch to a 5 for covering an obscure subject in an entertaining and engaging way.

It helps to enjoy the thinking side of football to get into this book, but it was equally interesting from the viewpoint of creative disruption. The book is about Hal Mumme, a coach I, and perhaps you, was unfamiliar with. The author makes the case that more than any other person, Hal Mumme is responsible for changing how football is played. Before Mumme began coaching in the
Edwin Howard
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
THE PERFECT PASS by SC Gwynne is the story of a man, Hal Mumme, with a vision of how football should be played, not how football was stuck in the "if it works, don't change it" approach. Gwynne chronicles Hal's rise from a tiny school where his radical ideas are forming, all the way to his short stay in Division 1-A football at University of Kentucky.
Hal Mumme's theory of pass first, pass a lot, and then pass some more was a hard concept for the sports world to understand at first. Gwynne does
Dec 24, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a hard topic to write about because the evolution of the passing game in American football happened across a wide expanse of time, geography and level of play. Gwynne's approach is to follow the career of Hal Munne and his apostle, Mark Leach. It's a good story, but keeping much of the story in lower NCAA divisions in Iowa leaves some holes in understanding how the changes took hold.
Still, Gwynne does a good job of understanding the game, the personality of Hal Munne, and the coaches he
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gwynne argued in this popular narrative that Mumme’s Air Raid offense, a simplified pass heavy offense with spread offensive linemen, helped push the passing revolution that has fundamentally altered football from high school to the NFL. The narrative traced how Mumme rose from small high school to small colleges to big time Kentucky before falling from grace. While he himself has floundered in middling college ranks, his protégé Mike Leach has gone onto to push the Air Raid offense at Texas Tec ...more
Alex Abboud
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It's a story of how passing offenses evolved and came to the forefront of football over the past few decades, but really the story of Hal Mumme (and his assistant Mike Leach), and their innovations. The recent years of this story are a post-script in the book, but it makes up for that with its historical facts and details and storytelling of the early years of Mumme's career. In particular, the juxtaposition of how football was played then with what Mumme (and ot ...more
Aaron Heil
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book that changed my perspective on the history of the sport. Gwynne's summary of the history of the forward pass in the first half of the book puts a new spin on the ground game/air game conflict within football. Also, this book shows a little how badly we tend to treat our coaches, whether they deserve it or not.

The book's main weakness was its inability to account for the lack of National Championships run by Air Raid offenses in recent years, or why a pure Air Raid offense
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding portrait of how the Air Raid offense came to be, and of the long and arduous journey Hal Mumme and Mike Leach took in their quest to change the game.

Fair warning: While I found this fascinating and exceptionally well constructed, I don't recommend it for football novices and casual fans. The book assumes a fair amount of knowledge of the game and would likely be difficult to follow and thus an unappealing read for those who don't already possess significant institutional memory o
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love this book both because I love college football and because I love biography. As I write this, the college coaches' carousel is just slowing and having a look inside the life is fascinating. We rarely notice coaches until they reach the top and then decide if they're worth their salaries. We less often see their paths. It is inspiring to see the details of one such trajectory in its whole, if not its completion. I am so grateful this book was written and these histories, both of football a ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A review of this book in a weekly publication caught my eye (surprisingly, as recent college footfall history would not normally interest me). I'm glad I did, because this book was fascinating. It includes a cinderella-story element, many twists and turns, well-explained football plays and innovations, a classic slow-beginning, high-rise, and sudden-downfall arc, and more. It's about Hal Mumme, inventor of the Air Raid offense, but it's also about innovations, stubbornness, and dedication. Very ...more
Jim Glover
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Book!

As a football coach who coached against Coach Mumme and his Air Raid, it was a trip back down memory lane. As someone who loves history it is a great book that explains how the game of football and common assumptions are difficult to change. Gwynne is a storyteller and does not burden the reader with the technical language of football. It is a great book for anyone looking for a story of someone having a vision and the fortitude to see it through.
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was a quick, easy read that clearly showed how Hal Mumme changed football. There was some X and O stuff in there and it was all very well explained, but the book wasn't dense. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the origins of the "Air Raid" offense or the evolution of football. ...more
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