I would say not a failing grade, but almost a failing grade to start the season. I've gotten increasingly better.
PROVO — While answering one of many questions this week about his prized recruit, quarterback Jake Heaps, transferring from BYU, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman described, in broad terms, and with a hint of understatement, his first season as the Cougars' offensive coordinator.
"As far as how things have transpired this year," he said, "it's been quite a year as a coordinator."
Indeed, the rookie play-caller experienced some turbulence.
Doman knew, when he was promoted last January, that the job wouldn't be easy. But there's no way he could have predicted the turn of events that followed, including the decision to replace Heaps with Riley Nelson, and Heaps' decision to leave the program. Heaps announced Thursday that he's transferring to Kansas.
Doman learned plenty this season, evidenced by his unorthodox decision to call plays from the field before moving to the press box in the fourth game.
So how would Doman, who is preparing the Cougar offense for the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa on Dec. 30 (10 a.m., MT, ESPN) assess his first year as BYU's offensive coordinator?
"I would say not a failing grade, but almost a failing grade to start the season. I've gotten increasingly better," he said. "I think by game four or five, I started feeling more comfortable about who we were and the direction we were going in. Early in the season, I thought I knew who we were. We missed on the identity of this football team. Sometimes football players create their identity. Sometimes players come on the field and lead the team and create that identity for themselves. We had a few of those guys step up this year."
A former BYU quarterback himself, Doman knows what the expectations are in Provo, and he put a lot of pressure on himself to succeed.
"I found myself searching, trying to be this perfect coordinator. It's impossible," he said. "We found that out. You can't be perfect. Ultimately, you have to give the players the right scheme, prepare them, make sure it's simple enough that they can execute it. … What's happened on our football team the last seven or eight games is we've had guys start to make great plays. My job got a heckuva lot easier. I started getting confidence. Right now, I've got great confidence in who we are and calling plays in the box has not been a challenge. It was a challenge the first four or five games. I don't feel that way at all now calling plays."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall said he's observed significant improvement in Doman as the season progressed.
"As tough as a schedule as we had at the beginning of the year, with that newness and getting acclimatized, I think he's done a really nice job of growth, not necessarily in a play-calling role, but in a field presence and leadership role day-by-day through the season … and how he handles the team in terms of preparation. The plays that are being called are very similar, but the confidence in which they are being called and the command of the staff and the offensive unit has changed quite a bit since week one. That's noticeable."
Considering the switch from Heaps, a drop-back passer, to Nelson, who's a running quarterback, will Doman change the type of QB he recruits to BYU?
"(Running quarterbacks) pose all sorts of trouble for the defense, but I want quarterbacks that can lead, that have the ability to throw it, and then if they have the mobility, then they're defending all 11 guys," he said. "That's how you see college football and the NFL … Riley threw it 38 times in that game against Hawaii. We want to throw it 35 times in a game. If they can't do that, they can't play, no matter how mobile they are. If you can find a guy that can do both, gosh, I think they're the hardest ones to defend of all of them."
Doman acknowledged that there are things he would have done differently this season, knowing now what he didn't know a few months ago, particularly when it comes to Heaps' situation. But he declined to go into much detail.
"There are certain things I would have liked to have seen happen different that we didn't do. That's all hindsight," he said. "At the time, we thought we were doing the right things. It's just hard for any young player with that level of expectation that all of us placed on him, and himself included, to then not have it go exactly … I don't know how it was going to go exactly the way we all planned it to go. It was unrealistic and probably unfair to Jake more than anybody. That's probably the biggest disappointment — that it didn't go the way he and maybe all of us wanted it to go. I would have loved to have seen him stay and finish. That was my fight with him — finish, stick around and let's see this thing to the end and see what comes out of this. He chose to leave."
Now, Doman and the Cougars are moving on — preparing for a bowl game, and for Year Two of Doman as BYU's offensive coordinator.
Cougars on the air
Armed Forces Bowl
Tulsa (8-4) vs. BYU (9-3)
Dec. 30, 10 a.m., MT
Ford Stadium, Dallas
TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM