Provo • In the weeks and months after he was promoted to BYU's offensive coordinator in early January, former Cougars quarterback Brandon Doman turned himself into an expert on Cougar football history especially the school's offensive history.
The 34-year-old Doman called former BYU quarterbacking greats such as Ty Detmer, Steve Young and Gifford Nielsen. He walked across the hall in the BYU football offices and spent hours and hours tapping the mind of 29-year BYU coaching veteran Lance Reynolds, who moved in the offseason from running backs coach to tight ends coach. He sought the advice of Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs, a former member of LaVell Edwards' staff in Provo.
Doman even reached to the NFL, talking to Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, other members of the Eagles staff, and Houston Texans quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp, a friend from Doman's days in that league as a backup QB in San Francisco.
His conclusion: The best offense for BYU is the one it once employed.
"We're going to return to our roots," he said.
And so the offense that was on display at Saturday's camp-concluding spring game might not have a polished, catchy name just yet.
For now, there's this: "It is old-school BYU," Doman said. "And then some modern-day West Coast offense kind of a mixture of those two. Don't know if that makes sense or not, but that's probably what we are."
Norm Chow's name doesn't come up in a conversation with Doman for obvious reasons the former BYU offensive coordinator during the offensive heydays of the 1980s is now plying his trade at rival Utah but there's an acknowledgment south of the Point of the Mountain that the offenses at BYU and Pac-12 bound-Utah are going to be fairly similar with Doman handling the reins in Provo and Chow 30 years his senior in Salt Lake City.
"I want BYU fans to feel like we are attacking, and through the air," Doman said in the final days of spring camp. "I want them to feel like this is the BYU offense of old, and that we are going to throw the football a lot, like we used to do."
Specifically, Doman said, fans can expect more bootlegs, more play-action passing, and perhaps even the old draw-trap play.
One of the most noticeable wrinkles that Doman added this spring was having his quarterback line up under center more, rather than in the shotgun formation that former coordinator Robert Anae favored.
"That is by design primarily because of who is playing quarterback [sophomore Jake Heaps] right now," Doman said. "He is good at it. It suits his talents, and it also allows us to be more effective in the play-action game. With him in the shotgun, we are not quite as effective in the run game, we are not quite as effective in play-action."
Variety and balance. Doman says those words a lot when discussing his approach, albeit after stressing that they aren't going to completely abandon elements of the spread offense that Anae used.
"I think that we can run the ball real well. We won't pass all the time just because I'm an old quarterback," Doman said. "We have some running backs, that if we can mix them up just right, and if we personnel them just right, we have enough unique talents that, put them all together, you have a pretty good running attack right there."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall, having acknowledged last fall that his knowledge of offensive football is limited, said he is giving Doman the freedom to make whatever tweaks he feels are necessary.
"I have had more fun this past two months, or however long it has been, than in the last six years," Mendenhall said, when asked if the offensive staff changes are working out like he wanted. "They are so much fun. They are optimistic, they are positive, they are realistic. They have a ton of energy. The players love them. They are just great staff members, and so we still have some game management issues to work out, the brutal facts of managing a game and calling timeouts and substitutions and all that. But for where we are to this point, I really like who they are."
Doman received Heaps' wholehearted endorsement last fall, and nothing changed in that regard through spring camp. It was no secret that Heaps was frustrated at times last year with Anae's personality and coaching style, if not his play-calling approach. That frustration was most visible after BYU's 17-16 loss to Utah in which the Cougars went conservative on their final drive, resulting in a blocked field goal.
"I love what we're doing," Heaps said. "We are going back to our roots a little bit, back to what we used to do best, and back to what made BYU great. This offense looks a lot like what BYU used to do back in the day. We are hoping for the same result."
It hasn't been decided yet whether Doman will call plays from the press box or sidelines during games in 2011, but Heaps has cast his vote for the latter.
"With last year to this year, [Anae and Doman] represent two different coaching styles, two different ways of doing things," he said. "Having the relationship I have with coach Doman, it has been fun to come out here and just learn from him, and enjoy practice."
Brandon Doman file
1993-95 • Starting quarterback at Salt Lake City's Skyline High
1997-2000 • Seldom-used backup QB on LaVell Edwards-coached teams until final few games of junior season
2001 • Starting QB led Cougars to 12-2 record as a senior
2002-2004 • Spent three seasons on the bench in NFL with 49ers, Bills and Redskins
2005-2010 • Worked as BYU's quarterbacks coach under coach Bronco Mendenhall
2011 • Promoted to BYU's offensive coordinator, replacing Robert Anae