By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
It was December 1996. The Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, under coach Rick Pitino, was beginning to pick up steam heading towards a showdown with Arizona in the National Championship game in March of 1997. UK would finish in second place that year much to the dismay of many Big Blue fans.
But that was not the only big news for UK fans in December of 1996. Then athletic director CM Newton had hired a new football coach to replace the recently fired Bill Curry. His name was Hal Mumme, a little known Division II coach from Valdosta State, who ran an unusual passing offense called “the Air Raid”. It became the precursor of the offense we know today as “the spread”.
This fall marks the 20th anniversary of Hal Mumme’s inaugural season as UK Football Coach. That year Mumme came in to the season predicting that his team would have a quarterback throw for 3,000 yards and a running back rush for 1,000 yards. The previous year under Coach Bill Curry the UK offense had a quarterback throw for 900 yards and running backs rush for a combined 1,000 yards.
Mumme proved to be a pretty good prognosticator. Tim Couch passed for 3,884 yards and Anthony White rushed for 723 yards. Derek Homer chipped in another 502 yards at running back as well.
Hal Mumme’s first team finished with a 5-6 record that year. The improvement from Bill Curry’s 4-7 record his final season in 1996 seem minimal but it proved to be monumental.
From those modest beginnings Hal Mumme went on to lead the University of Kentucky to a 7-4 season and a berth in the Outback Bowl in 1998 against national power Penn State on New Year’s Day. UK would lose that game 26-14 but showed the country that UK could play competitive and exciting football against the best.
That season would also push Tim Couch into the limelight as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Couch passed for over 4,200 yards and 36 touchdowns that season and finished as the No. 4 finalist for the Heisman. He would go on to be selected No. 1 in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.
It’s interesting the parallels between that season 20 years ago and what Mark Stoops is attempting to do now. Hal Mumme took over from a coaching staff that could not seem to move the ball offensively with any success. He revolutionized the offense. Using a system that no one else was using at the time he put up huge scoring numbers every game (the 1998 team averaged 32 points per game). Mark Stoops took over from a coaching staff that was averaging 18 points per game and began installing a system that very few teams use today.
His run oriented offense with a heavy dose of Wildcat mixed in is not quite as revolutionary as the ” air raid” but it is markedly different from what most teams run in the “Power 5” conferences. Stoops offense averaged 30 points per game with 30 rushing touchdowns in 2016. For comparisons sake National Championship Runner-up Alabama had 33 rushing touchdowns but played two more games than UK.
Last year Stoops team made it to the Taxslayer Bowl which was the first time UK Football had participated in a major bowl game (the Taxslayer Bowl was formerly known as the Gator Bowl) since – you guessed it – Hal Mumme’s 1998 team that lost to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
Had Hal Mumme been a better administrator I believe his teams would have gone on to be very competitive in the SEC. I don’t think he would have won an SEC Championship playing that style offense, but who knows. Unfortunately recruiting violations from his staff members brought the entire experiment to an end.
One more interesting parallel between the two coaches is that Hal Mumme brought life back into a UK football program that had been given up for dead. I believe Mark Stoops is doing the same thing today.
Only time will tell.