Mt. Pleasant - the birthplace of today’s college football?
It is a near certainty not many people associate the reinvention of college football with Mt. Pleasant.
However, author S.C. Gwynne does. Gwynne says as much in a book — “The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football” — which was released late last year.
Gwynne’s book focuses on Coach Hal Mumme, who guided Iowa Wesleyan gridiron teams in 1989-91, arguably the “golden age” of Tiger football. During those three years Wesleyan had a 24-11 record.
Mumme is referred to Gwynne as a protégé of the late LaVell Edwards, coach of the pass-happy Brigham Young University Cougars. He said Mumme and Edwards and a few other coaches gave us a large chunk of the game we watch today.
A couple of “those other guys” are Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen. Leach served as offensive coordinator for Mumme at IWU and followed him to his next two stops — Valdosta State and Kentucky. Leach is now head coach at Washington State University.
Holgorsen, a Mt. Pleasant native, played for Mumme and Leach as a wide-receiver at Wesleyan. He also served as an assistant coach under both Mumme and Leach. Following several other assistant coaching stops at NCAA Division I programs, he is now the head coach at West Virginia University.
The book, “Perfect Pass,” takes readers back to an Aug. 31, 1991, grid contest in Mt. Pleasant, which was Wesleyan’s season opener in 1991. Wesleyan’s opponent was Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State).
Gwynne said on the surface it looked like an almost grotesque mismatch. Northeast Missouri was a national power in the NCAA-Division II ranks. He called Northeast Missouri “the larger, sleeker and better-provisioned team.
“Opposing them were the Tigers of Iowa Wesleyan College, a Midwestern liberal-arts college with 500 full-time students… and a long and storied tradition of getting murdered on the football field. The Tigers were 25-point underdogs,” Gwynne wrote in his book.
“Instead of a blowout, however, the 3,000 fans who came to see the game found themselves what amounted to a reinvention of the sport,” Gwynne continued. “What Northeast Missouri witnessed was the official debut of an aerial style of football unprecedented in the sport’s 122-year history, a style that was dominantly influenced by LaVell Edwards. They found themselves in a sort of football anti-world in which conventional ideas of time and space and even the geometries of the field were altered, in which the game was different — with different goals and objectives, different premises — depending on which side had the ball. In other words, a widely relativistic approach to the national pastime.”
The Tigers piled up 537 yards of offense and won the game, 34-31. The winners came back from a 24-7 halftime deficit. Wesleyan quarterback Dustin Dewald completed 41 of 53 passes for 450 yards. The passing yardage was a school record, surpassing the 445 yards Dewald compiled the prior season against Greenville.
Though no one understood at the time what had happened, the game of football in America changed that day, Gwynne claims. No one had any idea that Iowa Wesleyan’s wide-open passing offense would sweep through and dominate huge chunks of American football.
“The pass-infused game you are watching today on television — Drew Brees throwing 42 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns, or Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahonnes (during Leach’s stint at the school) is a direct, lineal descendant of what happened in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, on Aug. 31, 1991,” Gwynne says in his book.
The author said Mumme was not the only coach responsible for the change, although most analysts agree today that he gets the lion’s share of the credit.
Mumme termed his offensive philosophy as “Air Raid.” It came as the result, according to Gwynne, of years spent begging, borrowing, and stealing ideas, and otherwise cobbling together his vision of offensive football. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mumme, along with Leach, set off on a number of cross-country treks to discover the secrets of the forward pass.
A native of Texas and formerly a coach in that state’s prep ranks, Mumme visited with high school coaches, junior college coaches and coaches from defunct professional leagues and even NFL coaches. He sought a unified theory of the passing game. He found it primarily at BYU’s training camps, which Edwards invited him to attend.
In another departure from the normal coaching scheme, Mumme wasn’t into large, elaborate offensive schematics and playbooks. Instead, he didn’t have a playbook and only a few offensive plays.
The coach also considered ball control, the most worthless statistic of all. He could, and often did, win football games by 50 points, having the ball for only 20 minutes. While conventional wisdom at that time was that a team ran about 60 plays per game, Mumme’s team ran between 85 and 100, the equivalent of sometimes between a quarter and a half more of offensive football. He also invented the super high speed, no-huddle football in the modern era, which he introduced during the Northeast Missouri game.
His offenses spread the whole 53.3-yard width of the football field. He was also known to go for it on fourth down.
The 1990 Iowa Wesleyan team led the nation in passing, the 1989 and 1991 squads ranked second nationally in passing offense. In one game while at Wesleyan, the team ran the ball just eight times.
Although he is regarded as an offensive genius, Mumme, 64, is only three games (139-136) above .500 in his college-coaching career. He currently is the head coach at Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss. Mumme has not forgotten Mt. Pleasant, though, as he has visited several times in the last decade, including headlining a mini football camp about four years ago.