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Bears make Marc Trestman NFL’s only Jewish coach

New Bears head coach Marc Trestman is introduced Halas Hall Thursday Morning. | Andrew Nelles~Sun-Times

New Bears head coach Marc Trestman is introduced at Halas Hall Thursday Morning. | Andrew Nelles~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 17, 2013 2:17PM

Welcome, Marc Trestman as the Bears 14th head coach. (Well, that is if we don’t count Fritz Wasem, Red Brannon, and James Cook, who were the coaches of the club when it was started by the A.E. Staley Company in 1919. And we’re not.)

Everybody thinks this is a good hire.

The Bears have been drowning in defense without much offense to show for the Jay Cutler era. The pendulum swings and fans who were sick of Lovie Smith and his Cover-2 now are delighted with Trestman and his 45-points-a-game.

Not that that’s going to happen, but Trestman is known as an offensive whiz and is a former high school and college quarterback who has made just about every quarterback he has coached at every level better during his long career.

Who are some of those QBs who excelled under his tutelage? Bernie Kosar (both in college and the NFL), Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer, and notably the Raiders Rich Gannon, a journeyman, who was named the NFL MVP in 2002 with Trestman assisting him. Trestman also guided his CFL Montreal Allouettes quarterback, somebody named Anthony Calvillo, to back-to-back MVP awards in 2009 and 2010

That all bodes well for the Bears, offensively starved as they are. But we won’t know what kind of fit the new guy will have with Cutler or the Bears decimated offensive line until game days.

One smaller item is of interest about the man, and it was the hiring day headline for JTA, ``The Global News Service of the Jewish People’’: ``Bears Bring in Jewish Head Coach, Marc Trestman,’’ it said in bold letters.

``The Chicago Bears hired a Jewish head coach, Marc Trestman, to improve their pigskin prowess,’’ went the main story. ``The 57-year old Minneapolis native will be the only Jewish head coach in the National Football League.’’

Interesting. Immediately some NFL fans were disputing this. Wasn’t the Detroit Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz, Jewish? Nope. Schwartz attended Mount St. Joseph High School, an all-male Catholic school outside Baltimore, and played football at Georgetown. As one hopeful, but disappointed, Jewish blog put it awhile back, ``The Schwartz son named Christian is kind of a giveaway.’’

So maybe we have a new Marv Levy in Trestman. That wouldn’t be bad. Ol’ Marv is Jewish and he took the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls and he’s in the Hall of Fame. Of course, it’s most likely none of those things are related, but when a new coach comes in, you sift through all the possibilities.

``Mark was a really serious kid,’’ says Minnesota sports psychologist and corporate consultant Rick Aberman, who grew up with Trestman in the Minneapolis area of St. Louis Park. ``He was the quarterback on the football team, and this is an area where most of the guys might be on the golf team or the tennis team. But Mark was real competitive.’’

Aberman, who does work for the baseball Twins and formerly was the sports psychologist for the University of Wisconsin athletic department and then the University of Minnesota’s, recalls that Trestman ``was a year younger than me, and our parents were friends. Mark was very even-keeled. Very focused. I don’t see that as a problem. But it may be for the Chicago writers.’’

We’ll see about that. Sportswriters don’t like anybody, we know.

Aberman jokes about the area they grew up in, noting that it was where many of the city’s well-to-do Jews resided and that it was not too ``rough,’’ unless you included intellectual matters. The film-making Coen brothers were classmates, as was Al Franken. Conservative New York Times political columnist and triple-Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman went to St. Louis Park High at the same time. The implication is that there were nothing but eggheads and smart alecs in the hallways, and to an extent that might have been true. But former Kansas City Chief and Super Bowl champion linebacker Bob Stein was also a St. Louis Park native, and Jewish. You could pick your poison there.

As Aberman says, ``Mark was very smart. But he was a tough athlete, too.’’

None of it means anything, really. Not now. Trestman, who may not care a fig about Judaism, abruptly finds himself in a very Catholic, very McCaskey family-driven business. It’s nice to see the hierarchy—chairman George McCaskey prominent—doesn’t care about such details as a man’s religious or ethnic background. After all, the Bears brass just fired a worshipful Christian black man.

Winning—or trying to win—trumps all. For a spell. I think it’s in the Bible.

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