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Kentucky Football: A Brief History of the Tony Franklin/Neal Brown Version of the Air Raid Offense

Want to understand the Kentucky offense next season? Let's git-r-done!

Scott Halleran

The Air Raid was developed primarily by Hal Mumme, his offensive coordinator, Mike Leach, and Dana Holgorson (QB Coach) at Valdosta State.

The Air Raid was something new and unique at the time at the Division I level. It was an immediate success in 1997 and 1998. The problem with Kentucky's Air Raid wasn't the offense, but Mumme's disdain for defense. That only goes so far in the defensive minded SEC.

When Leach left for Oklahoma to become Offensive Coordinator in 1999, he was replaced by running backs coach Tony Franklin. Franklin was the offensive coordinator until Mumme was fired two years later in 2000.

Most of us know about Leach's career at Texas Tech and now Washington State. One common misconception, however, is that Oklahoma won a BCS title with Leach as the offensive coordinator. Oklahoma won their title in 2000 with Mark Mangino as the offensive coordinator. Under him, Oklahoma ran the Triple Spread Option, not the Air Raid.

Tony Franklin was blacklisted from college coaching for a number of years because of the book he wrote exposing the inside goings on of Mumme's time at Kentucky. In 2006, he was hired as the offensive coordinator at Troy University. He left for Auburn at the end of the 2007 season.

While there are many variations of the Air Raid today, Neal Brown's version was learned under Tony Franklin at Troy. Brown was hired at Troy in 2006 as the wide receivers coach. When Franklin left in 2007, he became the offensive coordinator at Troy until he was hired by Tommy Tuberville at Texas Tech in 2010.

Tuberville is a rather unique coach. At Auburn and Ole Miss had had a bit of success. I won't talk about his time at Ole Miss other than this from his Wikipedia bio:

"While at Mississippi Tuberville made the statement, "They'll have to carry me out of here in a pine box," in reference to not leaving to coach at another school. Two days after he made that statement, it was announced that he was departing for Auburn.[3]"

As Larry The Cable Guy likes to say, "I don't care who you are, that's funny."

At Auburn, he guided the Tigers to a 13-0 record in 2004, but Auburn was not chosen to play in the BCS Championship game. Instead, Auburn faced Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

Tuberville hired Tony Franklin over the objections of his entire football staff, who wanted to stick with the offense they had been using for years. Franklin received little cooperation from the other assistant coaches and Tuberville controlled Franklin's offense to the point that it was ineffective.

It is well known that Tuberville is fascinated with the Air Raid offense, but he didn't trust it or the coaches running it. He showed a little more trust at Texas Tech, but he can't seem to keep his hands off and just let his offensive coordinator run the offense without his interference. After Tuberville fired Tony Franklin during the 2009 season, he, himself, was fired at the end of the season.

At Texas Tech, Tuberville replaced the departed Mike Leach. Leach ran his version of the Air Raid and was very successful on offense, not so much on defense. His defenses put up rather poor numbers. Sound familiar? Mumme at Kentucky was the same: big on offense, not so much on defense. Apparently, Texas Tech wanted to continue to run the Air Raid with more of a run game and Tuberville had "experience" with the offense and was hired.

He brought in Neal Brown as his Offensive Coordinator. Tuberville was hired on January 10, 2010 and hired Brown on January 12th.

In 2009, which was Mike Leach's final season, Texas Tech finished with a 9-4 record. Texas Tech was #2 in the NCAA in passing, # 4 in total offense and # 7 in scoring offense. However, the Red Raiders were 115th in rushing and 73rd in pass defense.

Tuberville's and Brown's first year saw a drop-off from Leach's performance. This was a different kind of Air Raid. The running game improved to 75th in the NCAA, and the rest of the offensive numbers dropped a little. The passing offense was ranked 7th, 15th in total offense and 23rd in scoring. It was Tuberville's defense which hurt the Red Raiders. They were 114th in Total Defense and 93rd in scoring defense. Texas Tech finished at 8-5, including a win over Northwestern in the Ticket City Bowl. Never hear of it? Read about it here.

2011 was not a good year for Texas Tech. They finished at 5-7 and 2-7 in the Big 12. It wasn't because of the offense. The Red Raiders finished nationally at 7th in passing, 87th in rushing, 13th in total offense and 22nd in scoring. The weakness, again, was the defense. They were 120th in rush defense, 66th in pass defense, 114th in total defense and 117th in scoring defense. The fans were getting restless, especially since Tuberville was known to have had some good defenses at Auburn.

In his 2012 and final season, Tuberville's Texas Tech team jumped to 2nd in passing offense, 86th in rushing, 13th in total offense and 20th in scoring offense, thanks to Neal Brown. The defensive numbers show that the Red Raiders improved on defense. They ranked 15th in pass defense, 74th in rushing defense, 38th in total defense and 90th in scoring defense. The Red Raiders finished with an 8-5 record, including a win over Minnesota in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

It took Neal Brown three years to get the Texas Tech passing game back to where Leach left it, but he never let the passing game get below 7th in the NCAA. Brown also improved the running game. It took Tuberville and three defensive coordinators, James Willis (Alabama), Chad Glasgow (TCU), and Art Kaufman (North Carolina) three years to make Texas Tech respectable on defense.

The Air Raid is a great offense, be it the Mumme/Leach version or the Tony Franklin/Neal Brown version. Yet, most of the teams who use the Air Raid don't do very well on defense. This begs a question. Does the Air Raid put too much pressure on your own defense?

Brown left Texas Tech before Tuberville. I've found the Texas Tech fan reaction surprising. They weren't upset. In fact, they seemed glad he was going elsewhere. You can see their reaction here. Be sure and read the comments, if you can stomach the references to Kentucky as a "lesser program" which I'll deal with later.

The Tech fans were not all that unhappy that Tuberville left for Cincinnati either. You can read about that here. Again, you need to read the comments

The mainstream media in Texas was more kind. Here's a Dallas News article about Tuberville and Brown.

I have to ask, "why are you glad to see the coach of the #2 passing attack leave for another program?" Did they want to see more of a running game? These are the same fans who loved the Mike Leach version of the Air Raid. If not, then why were they were upset when he was fired? I find it hard to understand what the Tech fans wanted. They never accepted Tommy Tuberville and they didn't like Neal Brown's offense. I am of the belief that the Tech fans are delusional, believing they are a major program who just couldn't get over the hump to greatness.

I can't blame either for leaving; it was a smart choice for both. The surprising thing is that Tuberville went to Cincinnati. He's an SEC guy. He may be closer geographically to the SEC, but he'll have difficulty recruiting SEC caliber players at UC. The Bearcats got lost in the realignment shuffle. Brown also fared better by going to a "lesser" SEC program.

I want to address this "lesser" stuff. Kentucky is, indeed, a "lesser" program in the SEC. Two and a half of the last three years were hard to stomach even for UK's most fanatical football aficionados. Texas Tech is in the Big 12. Big whoop! That makes them an upper level program and they are unhappy with their 7-5 regular season records over there? My goodness, cowpokes, you should be dang glad you didn't get invited to the SEC. Kentucky had the 8th toughest schedule in the nation, according to the NCAA. Our opposition won 60.1% of their games. Meanwhile, over on the oil fields of Lubbuck, the Red Raiders commanded the 69th toughest schedule. The Tech opposition only won 49.6% of their games. Lesser scheduling means more wins.

If you want to know more about Brown's offense, KSR's writers have some of very good articles that break down the Brown version of the Air Raid. Read these articles to see what the future holds:

1. Neal Brown is the Fastest Play-Caller

2. Neal Brown runs one of the best red zone offenses.

3. Neal Brown: Shotgun & Pistol Enthusiast

Texas Tech ranked 53rd in time of possession under Brown last year. Kentucky ranked 108th. Texas Tech was tied with several schools at 77th in turnovers lost. They turned the ball over 24 times. The Red Raiders were tied for 28th in fumbles lost with a total of 8 and they were tied at 100th in interceptions thrown with 16.

Kentucky was tied for 22nd, losing the ball only 16 times. Kentucky was tied at 6th in fumbles lost with 6 and tied at 43rd with 10 interceptions thrown. This makes Kentucky look like the better team on offense. Right? This is misleading. Our eyes told us Kentucky wasn't very good and the 2-10 record proved it. So, how could Texas Tech be so much better? The answers are easy.

Texas Tech ranked 10th in 3rd down conversions. They had 175 attempts and were successful on 86 for a rate of 49.14%. Kentucky, on the other hand, ranked 61st. UK had 178 attempts and was successful 71 times for a rate of 39.89%. The Red Raiders were 10 of 16 (62.5%) on 4th down conversions compared to the Wildcats 3 of 22 (13.64%) which was last in the NCAA (120th). Kentucky punted 61 times and averaged 39.46 yards net punting (18th). Texas Tech only punted 42 times and averaged 35.36 yards net punting (93rd).

Is it any wonder that Kentucky over-celebrates first downs? For me, hearing that "FIRST DOWN, KENTUCKEEEEEEEE (pause to take a breath) EEE!!!!!!!!" cheer is embarrassing. Are not first downs something that should be almost taken for granted? Maybe not for a "lesser" program. For me, that celebratory cheer is as bad as the band playing Symphony in E flat for Tubas at halftime and Gimme some Lovin' thirty times a game. For the last three years, the band should've been playing, This is Why We suck, This is Why, This is Why, This is Why We Suck. Sorry, I digress. Actually, no, I'm not sorry.

Texas Tech was tied (26th) with Texas A&M in the red zone, scoring either a field goal or a touchdown 87% of the time. In contrast, The Wildcats ranked 118th, scoring either a field goal or a touchdown 68% of the time. The Red Raiders ran 68 plays in the red zone and scored 59 times while UK made it to the red zone 34 times, scoring 23 times.

Here's some more obscure, but telling data from a poster, "AdolphRollingOver", on the Cat's Illustrated football forum:

Methodical Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that run 10 or more plays
Team/ % /Rank

TT..... 14.6% (46)
UofL.. 23.4% (7)
UK.....16.5% (34)

Explosive Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play.

TT......19.2 (16)
UofL...16.4 (33)
UK.....5.2 (120)

Value Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives beginning on its own side of the field that reach at least the opponent's 30-yard line

TT........51.3 (9)
UofL.....46.8 (30)
UK.......30.7 (101)

Offensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team's offense, a measure of its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position

TT.........36.6 (20)
Uof L.... 31.5 (27)
UK........negative 44% (110)

First Down rate, the percentage of offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown

TT.......75.4 (19)
UofL....73.4 (30)
UK......57.4 (116)

These numbers only add fuel to the fire on the effectiveness of the Texas Tech offense under Neal Brown and how anemic Kentucky's offense was last year.

So, that was Brown's offense at Texas Tech. There is evidence and history to show, particularly at Auburn, that Tuberville could not allow (he's a control freak) his offensive coordinator to run the offense without his interference. Now, imagine the coming numbers if Stoops lets Brown do his "thang."

Expect to see more pistol formations at Kentucky. Why else would UK recruit so many running backs? The Pistol does not affect the passing game and might actually enhance the Air Raid passing game because the opponent's defense will have to play pass first without knowing if the play will actually be a pass play or a run play. Better opportunities to exploit defensive weaknesses.

We may very well have been a "lesser" program, based on the past, but that won't last much longer. Imagine breaking the huddle, lining up and running the play. No more breaking the huddle, walking up to the line of scrimmage, looking over to the sideline to see if the play has been changed and maybe getting a delay of game penalty. Ya just gotta be happy with that, if nothing else.

Think in terms of the Air Raid with a defense. Git-R-Done! The Stoops/Eliot defense will be discussed in a few weeks.

Thanks for reading.