Leaps of faith led Andy Bischoff to become Bears’ TE coach
BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter November 30, 2013 12:38AM
People thought Andy Bischoff had the perfect job at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn., but he strived for something bigger in football. | Sun-Times Library
Updated: January 2, 2014 6:26AM
Marc Trestman had offered Andy Bischoff the biggest break of his coaching career, a spot on his 2008 Montreal Alouttes staff.
And then he tried to talk him out of it.
‘‘He had a great job,’’ the Bears head coach said. ‘‘And I was going up there on a flyer.’’
It’s funny now: Had Bischoff listened to Trestman, he wouldn’t have made an almost unheard-of leap — in five years, going from a high school assistant coach to the Bears’ tight-ends coach.
And he wouldn’t be returning to his home state with at least three dozen tickets to Sunday’s Bears-Vikings game — thank-yous for friends and family members who might have doubted why he’d leave the comfort of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn., for the Canadian Football League.
When Bischoff left Minnesota, hundreds of people met to wish him well.
‘‘To make that move was a risk, a very big risk,’’ Bischoff said. ‘‘It was a big shift.”
Trestman smiled when telling the story Friday. He had called his and Bischoff’s mutual friend, Mal Scanlan, to say it’d be “ridiculous” for Bischoff to make the move.
‘‘But,” Trestman said, ‘‘I couldn’t talk him out of it.’’
Bischoff had spent 14 years at Cretin-Derham Hall as an assistant coach, the last four years as associate head coach. He worked with college coaches who were recruiting players at one of the nation’s most storied programs, and, as dean of students, was on track to maybe one day become the principal.
During the day, he mentored students and punished kids for everything from uniform violations to off-campus drinking.
After school, he helped run a program that produced future NFL players Steve Walsh, Chris Weinke and Matt Birk, among others.
His life, it seemed was set.
‘‘I had the best job in the world,” he said.
The itch crept in, though, in his mid-30s — he could coach at a higher level. He looked for an opportunity.
‘‘To jump from high school to any college level, let’s say Division III, is next to impossible,’’ Scanlan said. ‘‘You have to have somebody that will take a leap of faith. Somebody has to trust somebody.’’
Scanlan, a former Cretin head coach and Bischoff’s mentor, connected him to Trestman. Bischoff and Trestman met once in person years before, in 2001, at a Cracker Barrel in Miami.
Scanlan pushed for Bischoff when Trestman was searching for a running backs coach and administrative assistant in 2008. He suspected that Trestman — passed over for positions before finally landing a head coaching job — would relate to the underdog story.
Trestman didn’t know Bischoff well, but he liked his work ethic.
‘‘He didn’t make the jump because he paid his dues,’’ Scanlan said. ‘‘He did because there was a guy who believed in him. All of life is a network. The network will pull you along or discard you.’’
Trestman’s Alouettes staff didn’t include any close friends, or, really, good acquaintances.
‘‘They were the best guys for the job,” he said.
He hired Bischoff because of his administration prowess and figured he could tutor him as a coach.
‘‘He also had great people skills, really unique people skills,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘He has this ability to connect with people — his players love him.’’
Three years ago, he took over the Alouttes’ special teams when another didn’t work out and, Trestman said, ‘‘did a superlative job.’’ The team made the Grey Cup in each of his first three seasons and won it in Years 2 and 3.
‘‘Fortunately I was never caught in the cross-hairs of, ‘Should I have done this?’ ” Bischoff said. ‘‘It could have easily gone that way.’’
His success wasn’t enough to get the Bears gig; Trestman made all prospective assistants interview with the coordinators. Bischoff switched from running backs to tight ends. This year, he has coached Martellus Bennett to 531 receiving yards, eighth-most in the NFL.
Bennett said he could tell Bischoff’s past from how organized he is, putting everything into notes and keeping a strict schedule.
‘‘He wants to learn as much about the position as possible,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘He’s open to new ideas.’’
Bischoff considers himself fortunate to be in Chicago.
‘‘There are so many good coaches out there,” Bischoff said. “Fortunately for me, I made a connection with Marc. The opportunity in Montreal wasn’t the one in Chicago. I was grateful for that opportunity, and I’m as or more — grateful for this.’’
Bischoff has about 30 minutes of free time every day — his drive home from Halas Hall to Evanston. He spends almost every second on his phone, reaching out to friends and former players.
“You can’t underestimate the value of a voice mail,” he said.
Ryan Harris, a Cretin graduate who played at Notre Dame and now is an offensive tackle for the Houston Texans, stays in touch with his old coach. He admires that he lived what he had told his players.
‘‘I’m sure it was difficult,’’ Harris said, ‘‘but if you’re gonna be happy in life, you’ve got to take risks and you’ve gotta go for it.’’
Bischoff saw the risk — betting on Trestman, a first-time head coach in Canada — as a two-way street.
‘‘He took a flyer on me,’’ Bischoff said, ‘‘and I took a flyer on him.’’