The first week of 2011 was a momentous one for BYU's two marquee sports programs.
Coming off a sixth consecutive bowl appearance and fifth-straight winning season, BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall began an off-season overhaul of his offensive coaching staff, declaring that "my job as the head coach is to continue to look for ways to improve our program. I'm not willing to accept any ceiling on our program, as to what's possible and not possible."
Mendenhall then announced the promotion of quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, with the former BYU QB retaining his prior responsibilities and adding the title of offensive coordinator to his pigskin portfolio. Taking over for Robert Anae, Doman changes the public face of the BYU offense and mirrors the move Mendenhall made in assuming play-calling duties for the BYU defense.
While Doman's personality differs from that of Mendenhall, both coaches have demonstrated the ability to connect with players at a deep and meaningful level. When Mendenhall took over as defensive coordinator, he said "this isn't really a scheme issue, or a strategy issue ... this is capturing hearts and minds and inspiring."
That job description appears to play to Doman's strengths and personality traits. Where Anae was stoic, Doman is excitable. Where Anae was often aloof, Doman is outgoing. Where Anae was patient, Doman is more impulsive. Where Anae was a connection to BYU's more distant past, Doman is a link to BYU's present-day success.
The player who will most visibly benefit from Doman's leadership is quarterback Jake Heaps, who in a late November appearance on KSL Radio spoke about his position coach.
"I love Coach Doman to death. He's my guy," said Heaps. "He has developed me into what I'm doing right now. I can't say enough good things about that guy; it's kind of like we were made for each other. He's a tremendous guy and a tremendous coach; I really rely heavily on him."
On the same occasion, Mendenhall said, "Coach Doman, is really, in my opinion, the one that is responsible. Coach Doman is not only so helpful in helping Jake develop and reach his potential — which is going to be amazing when that happens — but his relationship that Jake has with Coach Doman is one that will surpass any I could ever have with any of our players."
"Jake is so fortunate to have not only someone that played the position here, but loves BYU so much and does just such a fantastic job of ambassadorship for the program and the church," said Mendenhall. "Jake is being mentored by the absolute best person (available)."
That person now leads Heaps and the BYU offense into a 2011 season that may help re-define "what's possible" for a group that struggled for much of the season but ended the year on a roll.
Meanwhile, the BYU basketball program remains on a roll, having just completed a great week to open the calendar year and the Cougars' Mountain West Conference schedule. By winning at UNLV, BYU not only beat the Rebels on their home floor for the first time in the Dave Rose era (after eight consecutive losses), but sent a shot across the MWC bow, identifying BYU as the early team to beat in the conference title chase.
The Cougars followed up their road win in Las Vegas with a home win over an Air Force team that is notably better than last year's 10-win outfit, giving BYU a 2-0 start in league play for the third straight season.
Saturday's win also lifted BYU to previously uncharted territory on Sunday morning: the No. 1 spot in college basketball's RPI ratings. At 16-1 on the season, having already won nine times away from Provo and with the MWC rated among college basketball's best conferences, BYU has a solid statistical profile — one that has the Cougars in position for a highly-favorable NCAA Tournament seed.
Since seeding was introduced in 1979, BYU's best-ever placement was as a three seed in 1980; the Cougars played in Ogden and lost in the second round, after a first-round bye. Since the tourney field expanded to 64 seeded teams in 1985, BYU's best bracket bid was as a four seed in 1988. This season's team is on pace to breathe that same kind of rarified March air, having gotten 2011 off to a stellar start.
Greg Wrubell is the radio play-by-play "Voice of the Cougars," and hosts BYU Football and Basketball Coaches' Shows on KSL Newsradio and KSL 5 Television. Wrubell's blog "Cougar Tracks" can be found at byu.ksl.com. "Behind the Mic" is published every Tuesday during the BYU football and basketball seasons. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org