In Part III, Coach Longo discusses the Air Raid offense!
Air Raid Takes: Leach and Kingsbury
The greatest coaching influence I have is the Air Raid purist, Mike Leach. Mike is still running what he ran ten years ago at Texas Tech. When I visit with him each year I am reminded of one of the main rules of the Air Raid, and that is to remain simple in order to be really good at a few things. In his world they can beat anybody with what he is running, it doesn’t matter what he calls, they can beat any coverage. It comes at a high premium because it is hard to play instinctively at a high level consistently. He caters to his talent base and he wants to be really good at a few things. The other influence I have is Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, he was Leach’s quarterback at Tech. Where Kingsbury excels is that he thinks outside of the box, he is the master of game planning and wrinkles. He is not restricted by what people say you can do. He is as good as it gets with game planning outside of the box and offense, putting the defense in conflict and getting the ball in space. They are two high-character guys, two of the best people in college football. They are also exceptional coaches and surprisingly humble for their success. They have been really good to me both personally and professionally. How much can you ask for when you embrace somebody’s approach for an offense?
Air Raid Theory
We at Sam Houston State are no different than Mike Leach’s offense. We are going to run a few good plays that will beat the defense regardless of what they do. We actually only have twenty-six plays in our offense. If we run shallow cross and they are in cover four, three, two, one, zero, press, or anything, we teach our receivers how to beat it with the techniques that we taught them. It does not matter what the defense does conceptually. The only difference with the air Raid here is that we put a bit more premium on running the ball, but we don’t have a different philosophy. We are going to spread all the time and go where they are, no matter if we are running or passing. The size of the field never changes and the sport never has more than eleven guys on each side (unless you are playing Arena or Canadian football). From a size standpoint it is all in a certain realm so space is the constant. You don’t know where the open space is but they can only defend so much. They are going to be weaknesses in any defense but the one constant is that they give up the same amount of space. When a team comes up and load the box to try and take away the run, we are going to throw verticals, screens, and attacking space. We had a team do that and it was a fifty plus game. One game in the playoffs, the defense was playing off the ball and conservative and they were waiting for us to make a mistake. We just had to be patient, and we ended up putting up forty-five in that game.
We only have twenty-six plays so if a coach comes up with a great play that is better than our twenty-six we will put it in but we will also get rid of something. What can happen in this business is that you can get too complicated. I have a playbook at home of my own that is six feet tall. I can’t teach that to my staff let alone my players. And that six feet is just stuff that I like, not everything I have encountered. We don’t have a playbook but if we did it would be about twenty pages. We do that so we don’t overburden our players so they can think fast. The other reason we frame our system in twenty-six plays is that I have to police myself, if I don’t put that rule in place I will add a play every day. There are tons of plays that I love that aren’t worth the time. Now formation wise we may expand. In game one we may run four verticals out of two formations and in game fifteen run it out of twenty but it is the same idea. There are coaches out there with more complex offenses, but does that allow them to be more successful than us? I don’t think so. We want to lighten the mental burden and utilize athletic talent, and this is where Leach’s influence shines.
Kliff Kingsbury is on the other end of the spectrum. He has new wrinkles from week to week that have a high rate of success. He still runs his ninety percent of base plays that players know in their sleep, but he puts in ten percent of wrinkles to attack defenses. He gets the ball to his best athletes and he is incredibly creative in spreading and attacking.
My game planning process changed about fifteen years ago. I got comfortable with our process of calling a game. I have a process in my mind with play-calling that I don’t talk about, but with game planning we do it as a staff. We look at situational football but we don’t have, for instance, a cover-two beater only. Everything can beat everything. I don’t want to call a guessing game, I want to call a confidence game where it doesn’t matter what they do.
Our culture is to do everything fast no matter the tempo. The guys can simply get a signal or a call and line up and go play. They don’t have to worry about what their assignment is or where to line up. They have done it so many times successfully that there is no thought in it. That is why we high rep everything we do, so everybody can play on instinct. We install our entire offense in two days, and then we reinstall it in two days, and then we start hitting. But we also change it up a bit, for instance from a different formation but it still being the same play. We try to be more efficient and faster than everybody else. We ran more plays than anybody except one team in the history of Division I football last year. We had more first downs, yards, plays, and offensive touchdowns than anybody else in the country last year. My current running backs coach was my running backs coach at Slippery Rock. Last year he was their coordinator and they lead Division II in scoring.