PROVO — Once upon a time, Brandon Doman was the toast — with milk and cookies, of course — of Provo.
He delivered a miracle touchdown drive for BYU in Rice-Eccles Stadium to allow legendary coach LaVell Edwards to retire with a win in 2000. He took Gary Crowton's first team to a 12-0 record before a loss as the "Dominator," a play-making machine along with sidekick running back Luke Staley. He returned to coach at BYU and immediately became the face of the program for Bronco Mendenhall in word and deed, an eloquent recruiter, speaker and flag-bearer for the school. He quickly ascended to offensive coordinator when Robert Anae was not invited back at the end of 2010.
But today? Doman's under fire.
Just like Robert Anae before him and Norm Chow before him.
BYU fans tend to cannibalize offensive coordinators.
Critics don't like Doman's play calls. They wish he'd found a way to keep, mentor and groom Jake Heaps and that it was a mistake to alternate Heaps and Riley Nelson under center.
Critics say his failure to replace an injured Nelson at Boise State cost the Cougars a victory. They don't like his quarterbacks running 36 percent of BYU's run plays this season — and getting hurt. And at the end of last Friday's 6-3 win over Utah State, they don't like the fact that freshman quarterback Taysom Hill did not take the customary knee in a victory formation in the waning seconds, but ran a QB draw, his 19th carry. On that play, he hyperextended his knee and is out for the rest of the season.
Is all this criticism fair?
Doman, as is his custom and his personality, has said it all is his responsibility. He doesn't claim infallibility nor does he duck blame.
On Monday, Doman said Hill's injury will haunt him forever and that it was his fault. His boss, Bronco Mendenhall, a few feet away, claimed it was his fault as the head coach, that if his staff had had another two seconds to manage a timeout, Hill would still be healthy. "It was a miscommunication," said both coaches in unison.
"All the circumstances leading up to it was my fault, and that's at least how I feel and I'm responsible for that," said Doman. "I don't now if I'll ever get over him getting injured the way he did and the circumstances of how it happened. Again, it doesn't make anyone feel any better, it's just an explanation of what was poorly handled and executed."
Doman's goal this year was to pass for 300 yards and rush for at least 100 yards a game in 2012. Right now his offense passes for 209 yards a game and rushes for an average of 189. In other words, it is achieving its goal of 400 yards in total offense.
In his defense, BYU is 4 points short at Utah and 2 points shy at Boise State from being undefeated. In his defense, if BYU's kicking game was better, the Cougars would be 6-0.
Where Doman's offense fails is in scoring points. The Cougars average 25.8 points a game, 78th in the NCAA, but managed only 6 at Boise State and 6 against USU. The passing efficiency rating of his QBs is 122 when it should be above 155 to produce BYU-like numbers.
He will not publicly point to issues with the offensive line, the injury to Riley, or the loss of running back Michael Alisa to a broken arm and offensive guard Houston Reynolds to a knee injury as excuses. He won't tell the public that when 46 players missed all or parts of spring practice due to health issues, it set back his preparation. He won't do that. He is a guy who bucks up and accepts blame.
Doman needs help. And time.
Doman needs help in design and choreography, and as shown Friday in Hill's injury, better communication. Communicating is his strength. With a head coach that is excelling as an outstanding defensive coordinator, he needs an experienced voice that he trusts, that will criticize his decisions in and out of games so he gets better.
Like Utah's rookie offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, Doman is learning on the fly. Doman's main job experience as a coach came with Anae, who was also learning on the fly as a first-time offensive coordinator.
Critics have to understand that knowledge and experience take time, albeit Doman's clock is ticking. He isn't at odds with taking criticism.
I like Doman's expressions in the book "Running Against the Wind," explaining how he likes the mentoring he receives from former BYU quarterbacks and players.
"The one thing I've learned as a coach is that I certainly don't know everything," Doman said. "But I want to learn. If I am offended, or my ego gets in the way of my learning or of getting better at this profession, then that'll be the downfall of my coaching career."
He is right on.
"These guys have played at the highest levels, they know BYU, and they understand what it means to be a BYU QB. They were inside a very similar system that we run offensively. They can relate to our players in a real, unique way, so I would take every ounce of guidance and information that these guys have, even if it has to do with the coaching or the technical side of things.
"I may not like it, or I may not believe the same thing they believe. But for the most part, 95 percent of everything we talk about, we're on the same page. I'll usually make a change if they point out something that we could be doing better. I might spend some time looking at it, and I'll make the change."
So, in quoting Doman here, he knows he has a safety net. And he knows he needs it. Me advocating it here isn't something he hasn't considered. He has asked for the help of Steve Young, Ty Detmer, John Beck, Gifford Nielsen, Max Hall and others.
Folks close to Friday's situation with Hill's 19th tragic carry tell me Doman called that option play, then realized he'd made a mistake and quickly tried to change it or call time out but it was too late.
Doman's learning curve is an interesting one. It is made even more intense when one considers he was called to be an LDS bishop in the offseason. This means his Sundays, a prime preparation day for college offensive coordinators around the country, is occupied by meetings that begin at 7 a.m., and continue, oftentimes, into Sunday evening.
That is an added challenge.
A funny anecdote with ecclesiastical blessing for Doman took place this summer when I called Ty Detmer in Austin to interview him about his induction into the college football hall of fame. I told Detmer it appeared Doman could really use his help now that he is a bishop and offensive coordinator — a rarity in football. I asked Detmer if he would come to Utah if asked.
Deadpanned the Heisman Trophy winner, in the way only the Texan can deliver: "I don't want to be called to be his first counselor."