Talking football (and Buffett) with June Jones and Hal Mumme

June Jones and Hal Mumme are two of the most innovated minds in the history of football. They've known each other and studied each other's work for decades. This offseason, the 60-year-old Jones hired the 61-year-old Mumme to be his offensive coordinator at SMU. The move creates a fascinating dynamic especially as it relates to the Mustangs' debut season in the new American Athletic Conference. Recently, I sat down with both coaches for a conversation that covered, among other things, the evolution of their offenses, the evolution of Texas high school football and Jimmy Buffett.

BF: How long have you guys known each other?

June Jones: I think we first met in '83.

Hal Mumme: We played a game, Hawaii vs. UTEP. (Mumme was an assistant coach with the Miners. Jones was an assistant at UH.)

JJ: It was at UTEP.

HM: No, it was at Hawaii.

JJ: Oh, that's right. You guys should've beat us.

HM: We go for two at the end of the game and our kid drops the ball in the end zone and we lose by one point (25-24). We're all sitting around the locker room and we're just in the tank. I mean we couldn't win many games at UTEP. They were really good and we almost got 'em. I look up and here comes this tall, dark-haired guy in Hawaii gear walking over. He just went  around the locker room and shook everybody's hands and told us we were doing a helluva job. I'd never seen an assistant coach do that. He had enough class to come in there and say that to us because he knew how much we were hurtin'.

And then it seemed like we kinda always ended up in the same state. (In 1984, Jones was hired as an assistant with the USFL's Houston Gamblers while Mumme was still at UTEP. In 1987-88, Jones worked as an assistant with the Houston Oilers while Mumme was the head coach at Texas' Copperas Cove High School.) When I was at Valdosta (State in Georgia while Jones was with the Atlanta Falcons as the OC and later as the head coach), he sent me his secretary's kid, Donnie Johnson, who actually turned out to be a pretty good player. He said, "You need to take this guy."

I said, "What does he do?" He goes, "Well, I don't know but his mom's my secretary, so take him."

BF: How closely did you keep on eye on what other teams do scheme-wise?

JJ: In 87-88, when we were at the Oilers, we were really the only ones in the four wides although Dan Marino first did it that night when they beat Buddy Ryan and the Bears on Monday Night Football (in 1985). They shifted Nat Moore into the slot and the linebacker had Nat Moore and they beat 'em. That was because of what we were doing in the USFL. We were on ESPN all the time and the NFL coaches all saw it. Then we went to the Denver Gold and the Broncos put in the Three Amigos. Then Jerry (Glanville) hired me in '87 to go to the Oilers it was really the first time in the NFL someone was doing it with four wides. Miami and the Broncos were doing it, but it was with the tight end and three wideouts.

And I watched all of the Kentucky and Valdosta tapes to see what (Mumme's staff) was doing.

HM: There weren't many people doing it back then. We'd drive up to see Lindy Infante up at Green Bay. You had to search. Nowadays you could go out the door and find someone doing it.

BF: Hal's know as an Air Raid guy and June, you're known as a Run-and-Shoot guy. What are the biggest variations ... 

JJ: I think I climbed the coaching ladder quickly because I was willing to do it. I think (Mumme) got the coaching job at Kentucky because he had some balls. Nobody was doing it and he's winning. All of a sudden you have these places that had never won and were looking for something different. They'd say, "We can't win the old-fashioned way." So I'm watching the variations of it and every coach has their own little something they put on. The correlation is you live by the pass and you get the run because you throw. Everybody else wants to run and get the pass because they run. With Hal, Mike (Leach) and I the big similarity is the philosophy, "Throw the football to get the run."

If you talk to the defense coaches who played us, they're starting to figure that out. Zach Line almost broke Eric Dickerson's rushing records over here. Then they said, "Damn, we gotta stop that running back."

HM: If you take the playbooks and lay them down, you'd see there's a lot more similarities than differences. I say this all the time in clinics, "Air Raid is an attitude, not a playbook."

BF: Well, you didn't have a playbook technically.

HM: Right, I've gone from having no playbook to the New York City phonebook over here. We have one now.

JJ: But we don't give it to the players.

HM: There really are a lot more similarities than differences. He ran Y-Sail. We ran Y-Sail. He ran Verticals. We ran Verticals.

JJ: The concept of reading the coverage, nobody did it. Even when I was a player in 1977, and every Monday they'd say look at the next team and tell us what you think will work. Well, I'd write a book on reading and how to read the routes and all that stuff. But nobody in the NFL back then allowed their receivers to read coverage. If you're running a curl, you're running a curl. That was it. There was no conversion.

Our belief is, give the kids as much as you can and give them a basis for why to do a certain thing and then let them make decisions on the run. I think that concept from what Hal did is what Mouse (Davis) did and what I've copied. Let the kids have freedom to do what the best thing to get open is, and that gets back to what (Mumme) said about the Air Raid. It's an attitude, a belief system. And once you get the belief in the kids, you win.

BF: When did it change letting the wide receivers make sight adjustments and offense not be so rigid?

JJ: I know Don Coryell did some of it, but not as much as we did. When we went to Atlanta (Jones was a QB for the Falcons from 1977-81), we had a kid by the name of Junior Miller from Nebraska who could really run. I remember plain as day, I told the offensive coordinator, "When we ran the switch route, if they were in cover 2, we (should) post down the middle." We were all running hooks, everybody was -- tight end, the backs, the X and the Z, ran the hook. I said, "Junior, can you see if it's cover 2, and if it is, just go down the middle of the field."

(Falcons starting QB) Steve Bartkowski was accurate as heck, and so when we started reading that the curls went to post-corners and he went down the middle against cover 2 while playing with two backs and a tight end, we became the No. 1 offense in the National Football League. And so as coaches talked more and more at clinics, there was more and more reading going on.

Then there was the halfback option had been the biggest variation in 1977 that I could remember and that was the only route reading they ever did. If the backer's outside, break in. If the backer's inside, break out. And if there's two guys, hook it up.

HM: What (Jones) just described with the Falcons was what I got from BYU. When (Jones) was at Hawaii, they'd run all curls and convert it. To me, when I first started studying this was I was with a run offense (at UTEP in the early '80s) and eventually I'd become a coordinator of a run offense, which I felt was like going to the dentist every day. When I was at UTEP, we had to play BYU and Hawaii every year. I always wanted to study two people: one was LaVell Edwards and the other was Mouse Davis. And that's what I did.

We all got fired at UTEP (in 1985), and I got hired at Copperas Cove High School (in Texas). My perspective on what June's talking about is more of a regional deal because I was a HS coach. It still goes back to Mouse and June's influence from when they were with the Gamblers and the Denver Gold. One of their guys who volunteered for them at the Gamblers, Hugh Massey, was a real good friend of mine. He was a great guy. He won a state championship at LaMarque High School. He was going to go to Houston and work for (John Jenkins), but he got killed in a car wreck.

So when we left UTEP and I got the job at Copperas Cove, I got all these plays I'd gleaned from BYU film for 4-5 years and I got this stuff that Hugh was teaching me from these guys. I kind of blended it all together. The original Air Raid offense that we were doing at Copperas Cover HS is basically what we're doing here now. My view of it is from the high school level up while June's is more from the NFL down.

JJ: As we're talking about this, I look over there and I see Bill's (Walsh) original playbook. (Jones get up and walks to his book case and grabs the Walsh Playbook off his shelf.) In fact, you can see how limited this is. There's no converting when you call a play. It is what it is. There's nobody reading coverage.

OK, here's one, a fade.

HM: That was a big deal.

JJ: Yeah, convert it to a fade if you've got a fast guy.

HM: Yeah, I remember that.

JJ: This is as late as the 49ers and that's 1980, and he's still not converting. Eventually, these vertical routes for Bill all got to conversions. But this is the original.

BF: How'd you end up with that (motioning to the playbook)?

JJ: Bill and I became good friends. In 1980, I was in Atlanta, mopping up (as a Falcons QB). In fact, my last game was Joe Montana's first game. O.J. Simpson's last game ...

HM: Was your first coaching job in Hawaii?

JJ: Actually, I was in Toronto in '82 as a player-coach and then I went to Hawaii.

BF: Lots of people credit (Ohio high school coach) Tiger Ellison as the Godfather of the Run and Shoot. How is what he did different from what Mouse Davis created?

JJ: Mouse took Tiger's offense and turned it from a running offense to a passing offense. What you see now is -- look, the spread offense is not what Hal and I do. They still want to run the ball. They spread you out to run it, and that's what Tiger did. If you look at his book, and put the QB under the center instead of in the shotgun that's what Florida ran and what Ohio State is running now. They run all the option stuff, the pull, and Tiger did that from under the center and with four wideouts.

Mouse said we're going to spread it out and throw the ball. Tiger, though, did have a lot of reads involved when he did throw the ball. So Mouse just expanded on it. They still had switch and the guy read it: "You hook up if they're deep and go post if the middle is open. And if nobody's deep just keep going."

BF: Did you have any plays with names like Gangster?

JJ: No, we didn't. Mouse came up with Scramble Right and Rip and Liz Motion.

BF: June, I saw a quote where you said you expect the offense to change 15-20 percent this offseason, which is actually pretty standard for you ... 

JJ: Every year you tweak what you do. Originally, the switch route was hook or go deep. Now it's a hook, a flat break or a vertical break, a post break or a three-step break and over the years we've added more for the kids to see.

Like we were just talking in (SMU's offensive staff room) this morning on a route that we're adding to our package from Hal's concepts. He made a comment that we ought to signal the post to the guy on the deal. We used to do that all the time, but I didn't know that he did it on the route that we put in there. So I think you're constantly tweaking the existing routes that you have.

HM: The thing that has kinda happened for both of us in our careers and the reason that I've taken all these obscure jobs is because I didn't want anybody to tell me how to play offense. And when he and I first started, you couldn't hardly get a job where they weren't trying to tell you that you had to run the ball or the line had to be in a three-point stance or whatever. But now, as the popularity of this -- You ever been to a Buffett concert?

BF: Uh-uh.

HM: Nobody plays his stuff on the radio, right? It just becomes this great music. Well, when you go to a Jimmy Buffet concert one of the first things he always does is he thanks the whole crowd for his 40-year summer job 'cause this whole cult developed around his music even though they didn't play it on the radio in the old days. Now he's got his own station in satellite. To me, it's kinda the same thing as what we've done.

JJ: We basically took all the jobs that nobody wanted.

HM: Yeah, because they were the only ones desperate enough to let you do what you wanted to do.

JJ: Every job that I've had was the worst job, and the only reason why I got it is because they were just tired of doing it the other way and they wanted to try something else.

HM: The only job I'd ever gotten that had a bit of a winning percentage was Valdosta State. But they'd never won a conference championship or been in the playoffs.

I said all that just to say this: The thing that's happened -- and it's kinda fun -- is the receivers we get now, when we talk about switch route, when they've come up through high school, they do that all of the time now. You used to get guys where you had to teach them the basics of everything. Our All-American slot-tight end at Iowa Wesleyan never caught a ball in junior college in two seasons. Didn't catch one ball in two years, and then with us he caught, like, 150.

JJ: Ricky Sanders who (set all these) Super Bowl receiving records, caught like 12 balls in college. (Sanders was a running back at Texas State -- then known as Southwest Texas State -- and caught 14 passes in 1983.) In his first year (with the Houston Gamblers), he catches 101 for us but you had to teach him everything.

BF: Hal, how much has Texas high school football changed from your days as a coach at that level?

HM: That's one of my proudest things is I was part of that. There was Ronny Thompson, Sonny Detmer, Rusty Dowling and myself. In the mid-80s, when these guys (nods in Jones' direction) were doing it in the USFL and with the Oilers, we were all copying it. In Texas high school back then, you could have these athletic periods but you could only have five guys and a ball. So that's why we developed Routes-on-Air. We'd put folding chairs out there to be the defense. We'd get our starting quarterback and four receivers, and for 45 minutes we'd just line them up and rapid-fire these routes. All the coaches would throw the other three balls. Everybody else in Texas was in the gym with their (running backs) and we're just throwing ball.

After I left and went to (NAIA) Iowa Wesleyan, those same high school coaches, Rusty Dowling in particular, ended up pushed on the UIL, our governing body in Texas, to loosen up the rules. Now, you can go to any Texas high school during athletic period and see 11-on-11 or have Pass Skel in spring practice.

BF: In the past few years, it's become commonplace to see many of the top college QBs being Texans. How much do you think that transition has triggered that?

HM: In the 80s, all the QBs seemed to come from California and ... 

JJ: And what's happened is because of those guys, these 7-on-7 leagues have started and instead of handing it off like they had for the past 50 years, they're now throwing it from the time these kids are eight years old.

HM: When I first went to Copperas Cove, we were losing kids. The best athletes at the school didn't play football. They played basketball.

JJ: When you came to Texas in 1984, you would never see any spread formation. Ever. Every film you saw, they were in three-backs (Wishbone) or two tight ends.

OK, so when I went into my first recruiting meeting at SMU (in 2008), I stopped the meeting and I called Mouse and said, "You ain't gonna believe this but every film we put in for three straight hours they were in four or five wideouts. Every single one."

HM: That's one of my proudest things, and it's kept kids in the game. Look at some of these quarterbacks and receivers. Twenty years ago, they'd have been only playing basketball. Or soccer.

JJ: The Texas high school coaches do a great job of teaching these kids. It's amazing how sophisticated they've gotten. It's to the point where you have to be carefully in recruiting because what you see on film, he has to be a little bit better. When you project when you're at SMU, you have to be careful because they might be maxed out.

BF: (To Jones) How much different is this system from what you did at Hawaii?

JJ: If Colt Brennan were to walk in here right now, he'd know what we're doing. I always ask the quarterback in key situations, "What do you want to do in key situations?" Because if he wants to run what he's comfortable doing more than what I'm comfortable doing, he's going to run that better and he'll make it right even if it's the "wrong" thing because it's a belief and it's confidence.

BF: (To Jones) Do you have a (Air Raid staple) "95" in your offense?

JJ: We call it different.

HM: Here it's "Divide."

JJ: If (Mumme) were to call something by his terms, I'd recognize it. That's Divide. That's Divide Special. That's Houston, or he'd called it Sail.

HM: It's been helpful to have (Mustang assistant coach) Jason Phillips here because he's been here and he coached with Dana (Holgorsen) at Houston.

JJ: Jason's able to convert it real quickly.

BF: (To Jones) How will you handle the play-calling?

HM: To be quite honest, I don't know yet. I'm probably gonna turn some of it over to Hal. I'll be on the headset with him and, in between series, we'll make adjustments together. The main thing is that I know how he thinks is the same way I think.

BF: (To Mumme) When was the last time you didn't call the plays in a game?

HM: I didn't call plays for a long time. My son took it over for about six years. The last three years I took it back over, but really with what we do, it's not about the play-calling. It's more about the preparation and getting the kids to believe. You just gotta give 'em the reigns a little bit.

Our Latest Stories