The Air Raid brand is taking over the NFL in Week 3
Early returns on Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury look promising.
Through two weeks, Arizona is 12th in the NFL by averaging 368 yards per game. Heavy roster changes considered, that’s massive improvement after the Cardinals were dead last at 242 yards per game a season ago.
Red zone issues have kept them from piling up points, but between Kingsbury’s offense showing sparks and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray having success leading the charge, the narrative about the Air Raid offense is so far been good for the brand.
But this is the case beyond Arizona, which took a risk and ruffled feathers in the professional ranks by hiring a offensive-minded head coach without a lick of NFL coaching experience.
The Air Raid college-to-pro connections are taking over the NFL this week because of a few unfortunate quarterback injuries.
What will it lead to if quarterbacks groomed by Air Raid coaches continue to succeed? Likely, the possibility will build that coaches directly out of the Air Raid tree will join Kingsbury in the NFL.
“This is going to get Mike Leach a head-coaching job this year,” NFL insider John Clayton told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Think about this: You got Luke Falk starting, he’s starting for the Jets.
“You have (Gardner) Minshew playing great and you got the Air Raid offense putting up yards, and we’ll see if it’ll put up points.”
Leach, the current Washington State head coach, is the co-author of the Air Raid offense.
He and Hal Mumme developed the spread system at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State and Kentucky before the offense became adopted by many in the college and high school ranks.
An offensive coordinator while working under Mumme, Leach parted with Kentucky for the offensive coordinator job at Oklahoma in 1999, where he joined head coach Bob Stoops.
And only a year into joining Stoops’ staff with Oklahoma, Leach began a decade-long run as head coach at Texas Tech, where he either coached or hired the likes of Kingsbury, Dana Holgorsen, Sonny Dykes and Lincoln Riley, all of whom later became head coaches themselves.
On the latest RapSheet + Friends Podcast, Stoops said that Riley, his successor at Oklahoma and Murray’s head coach last season, could jump to the NFL.
“Oh, he could if he wanted to,” Stoops said. “Who knows? I can’t speak for Lincoln. He’s got great poise, he’s got a great connections with the players. He’s incredibly bright, smart play-calling. He’s got a huge future and he’ll be able to do whatever he wants to do.”
Leach and Riley will surely garner more looks if quarterbacks and offenses with Air Raid experience continue excelling.
Which teams have Air Raid links?
Here is a list of Week 3’s eight likely starting quarterbacks who played in college under a head coach or offensive coordinator directly descended from the Air Raid tree.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Arizona hosts Carolina at home, and the No. 1 2019 NFL Draft pick has sniffed that Air Raid air more than most.
In 2015 as a freshman, the quarterback played under Texas State head coach and then-Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
Spavital worked with Holgorsen at Houston as a grad assistant (2009) and then at West Virginia (2011-12). Holgorsen, by the way, coached under Mumme and Leach at Iowa Wesleyan (1991-92), Valdosta State (1993-95), then rejoined Leach with Texas Tech (2000-2007)
Murray transferred to Oklahoma after his freshman season, sat out 2017 and won the Heisman in 2018 leading Riley’s offense.
Leach gave Riley his start in coaching at Texas Tech in 2003, and the assistant remained there until 2009. Riley skipped to East Carolina in 2010 before joining Stoops’ staff in 2015-16 as offensive coordinator. He was promoted to the head coach in 2017.
Kyle Allen, Panthers
The Cardinals’ opponent will likely be without starter Cam Newton. In his place, second-year pro Kyle Allen will give it a go.
Allen played for Texas A&M under Spavital from 2014-15 — and competed with Murray for playing time in 2015 — before he transferred to Houston. He went undrafted out of college and has two games of experience under his belt.
Last year, Allen led the Panthers to a 33-14 win over the New Orleans Saints in the season finale. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in that game.
If Allen were to start and then get hurt, his backup, Will Grier, is a product of a Holgorsen- and Spavital-coached West Virginia team.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
The 2018 NFL MVP played three years under Kingsbury at Texas Tech from 2014-16, compiling 11,252 passing yards, 93 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Mahomes set an NCAA record with 819 total yards against Oklahoma in 2016.
He was the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft.
Kansas City faces the 2-0 Baltimore Ravens at home on Sunday.
Last year, Mahomes led the NFL with 50 touchdowns — five from the NFL record — and 9.6 yards per passing attempt.
Baker Mayfield, Browns
Recruited to Texas Tech as a walk-on by current Cardinals receivers coach David Raih, Mayfield joined the Red Raiders and in eight games as a freshman passed for 2,315 yards during Kingsbury’s first year as a head coach.
Mayfield transferred and starred for Oklahoma under Stoops and Riley from 2015-17 before being drafted No. 1 overall by Cleveland in 2018.
Gardner Minshew II, Jaguars
Minshew put up 4,779 yards, 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions at Washington State last year. He took over a starting role for Nick Foles in Week 1 after the quarterback went down with a collarbone issue.
The sixth-round pick has completed 74% of his passes in three games with five touchdowns to one interception with Jacksonville.
Minshew went 20-for-30 for 204 yards and two touchdowns on Thursday night in a win over the Tennessee Titans.
And by the way, if the Leach product wasn’t playing, Foles would make this list as well. The quarterback played in college under Arizona head coach Mike Stoops and Dykes, the offensive coordinator, in 2009.
Dykes worked under Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-2006 before joining Arizona.
Foles then led Arizona offenses coached by coordinators Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Litrell from 2010-11. Both have heavy Air Raid ties.
Now the coach at North Texas, Littrell worked as an assistant at Texas Tech (2005-08) before following Dykes to Arizona in 2009. Bedenbaugh played center at Iowa Wesleyan from 1991-94 and was an assistant for Valdosta State in 1996. He remained an assistant in the Air Raid tree at Texas Tech (2000-06), Arizona (2007-10), West Virginia (2011-12) and then Oklahoma (2013-present).
Jared Goff, Rams
The 2016 first overall pick by Los Angeles played for Dykes at California from 2013-16. The two-time Pro Bowler threw for a career-best 4,688 yards last year, his third season as a pro.
He recorded 32 touchdowns to 12 picks in the regular season before leading the Rams to the Super Bowl.
This week, Los Angeles visits Cleveland.
Luke Falk, Jets
Falk played in 42 games at Washington State from 2014-17, compiling 119 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions with a completion percentage of 68.
He was a sixth-round pick who has been on three NFL teams in two years.
Falk was just called into action last week after the Jets lost starter Sam Darnold (mono) and then saw backup Trevor Siemian go down with a season-ending ankle injury. Falk completed 20 of 25 passes and for 198 yards without a touchdown or interception in a loss to the Browns last week.
The second game of his career won’t be easy: New York faces the New England Patriots in Week 3.
Case Keenum, Redskins
Keenum had a host of offensive coordinators over six years with the Houston Cougars from 2006-11.
Holgorsen led the offense under head man Kevin Sumlin from 2008-09 before Kingsbury was elevated from quality control coach to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2010-11.
Keenum holds the NCAA passing record with 19,217 career yards, 155 touchdowns and 1,546 completions.