John Clay: Offensive wiz Neal Brown bringing swagger back to Cats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 10, 2013 

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown, during UK fan day on Friday August 9, 2013 in Lexingtton, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • UK football key dates

    Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville

    Home opener: Sept. 7 vs. Miami (Ohio)

The good folks at Athlon Sports recently took a brief break from pumping out glossy sports annuals to conduct one of those anonymous polls so popular these days on the worldwide web.

The subject was Southeastern Conference football. The opinion-givers were SEC football coaches, who under the cloak of not having their actual names associated with their actual quotes logically meant they were free to share their deepest thoughts.

Here's what one unknown coach said about Kentucky's new offensive coordinator:

"Neal Brown is very confident. He has a little bit of a swagger to him."

Well, yeah, we should hope.

If the 33-year-old former Boyle County star and UK wide receiver doesn't believe in what he's doing and be confident enough to show it, then why should we believe in what he's doing and more importantly — way, way, way more importantly — why should his players believe in what he's doing?

We're not talking arrogance here. Brown's far too personable for that, calling reporters he knows by their first names during news conferences, interacting with the fans, eliciting a native-son vibe during his luncheon appearances across his home state.

But Brown does have a certain air about him, especially when he starts talking about his scheme and what it can do and what he wants and why he believes it works.

I'd call it the "Air Raid Air."

Hal Mumme had it. (Boy, did he ever.) Shoot, Hal Mumme invented it. After all, it was the former Kentucky head coach (1997-2000) who invented the pass-happy Air Raid scheme in the first place. But Mumme not only walked the walk, he talked the talk.

You thought maybe Mumme was too neglectful of the running play? He didn't care. You thought maybe Mumme's insistence he needed only to prepare one quarterback was a little reckless? He didn't care. You thought Mumme's near disregard for the defensive side of the ball was, well, not in the best interests of the program? He didn't care.

He didn't mind telling you he didn't care. He believed he had built a better mouse trap in an unconventional manner which snubbed its nose at the game's tired ways.

Example: Punt on fourth down? That's the way they "used" to do it. Besides, what fun was punting?

Thing was, Mumme transferred his swagger to his players. Let the record show, Mumme did inherit a pretty fair quarterback in Tim Couch and a not-slow receiver in Craig Yeast when he arrived. But also, your honor, his scheme worked.

Unfortunately, the more it worked the more arrogant Mumme became. That (and his rogue recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett) helped lead to Mumme's unfortunate downfall here, which put the "Father of the Air Raid" on a journeyman's path to Southeastern Louisiana, New Mexico State, McMurry University and now SMU, where he is currently June Jones' offensive coordinator.

Jones all but invented the run-and-shoot. Between the head coach and his OC, SMU may not hand the ball off the entire season.

In the meantime, Mumme's numerous acolytes have all carried that "Air Raid Air" even as their scheme has been accepted into the mainstream. There's Mike Leach, head coach at Washington State; and Tony Franklin, offensive coordinator at California; and Dana Holgorsen, head coach at West Virginia. Just to name a few. They all exude a nonconformist nature. They're rebels with a cause.

They're also wildly successful.

Now to our downtown comes Brown, who played for Mumme at UK and learned under Franklin at Troy and proved he could do the job at Texas Tech, who brings his updated version of the "Air Raid" back to Commonwealth Stadium.

There was one other telling quote about Brown in that Athlon article from those SEC John Does.

"He did a good job at Troy and Texas Tech."

Brown is confident he can do a good job here, and you wouldn't want it any other way.


Key dates

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville

Home opener: Sept. 7 vs. Miami (Ohio)

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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