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Bears QBs coach Matt Cavanaugh’s style has been just what Jay Cutler needed

Cutler says he thinks his maturity is biggest reashe Cavanaugh have worked well during their first seastogether. | Charles Rex

Cutler says he thinks his maturity is the biggest reason he and Cavanaugh have worked well during their first season together. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Updated: October 23, 2013 6:29AM



PITTSBURGH — Jay Cutler needed a touchdown, not a speech.

His position coach wasn’t one to give him a rah-rah talk, anyway. Guys from Youngstown, Ohio, are direct.

‘‘Let’s win this thing,’’ quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said.

Cutler did just that last Sunday, driving the Bears 66 yards in the final 3:15 to overtake the Minnesota Vikings 31-30 at Soldier Field.

So for the second consecutive week, it was affirmed that one of the most important relationships on the Bears is between the quarterback famous for emotion and the coach who specializes in succinct, serious words.

‘‘He just taps the bench and says, ‘Come over and sit down,’ ’’ Cutler said. ‘‘We talk it out. If I’ve got to vent something, he lets me get it off my chest and he moves straight to the pictures. He’s a calming influence over there.’’

Cavanaugh is one of Cutler’s few influences. Coach Marc Trestman, a quarterback guru, hasn’t had a substantive conversation with Cutler during a game yet. He relays information to Cavanaugh, who talks with Cutler.

And Cavanaugh talks straight. It’s the way he was coached by Johnny Majors at Pittsburgh — the city where the Bears play the Steelers on Sunday night — and during a 13-year NFL career, mostly as a backup.

It’s the way he has coached in the 21 years since, including a stint as the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 1997-98 and with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2000.

‘‘There are no secrets,’’ Cavanaugh, 56, said. ‘‘You should be direct. [Cutler] has got a great football mind. We touch base, look at the pictures that just happened and compare notes, mental notes. . . .

‘‘We all want to be reached. We all want to be understood. I always reacted best to people that were direct to me.’’

‘It’s going real well right now’

Cutler has a reason he and Cavanaugh work well together: It’s him.

‘‘I think I’m older, a little bit more mature,’’ Cutler said.

While he gets tired during Wednesday workouts and meetings, he suspects Cavanaugh never sleeps.

‘‘In my younger days, it might have been a little bit more rocky than it is right now,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘But it’s going real well right now.’’

Cavanaugh called Cutler a ‘‘wonderful’’ pupil. The two hadn’t met when Cavanaugh took the job in January after three seasons with the New York Jets. He liked it that way because he had no preconceptions.

Cavanaugh studied Cutler’s performances with the Bears and Denver Broncos and didn’t change much. He reinforced fundamentals and stressed avoiding mistakes, tenets Cutler already knew.

‘‘Believe me, when the ball’s snapped and you’ve got about 2½ seconds to make a decision with a lot of fat guys running at you, it’s hard sometimes to make the right decisions,’’ Cavanaugh said. ‘‘So there’s going to be bad decisions. We’re here to help him eliminate as many as we can, understand how important it is to protect the football — and he knows that.

‘‘And then let him play. You’ve gotta let him play.’’

The two might be more similar than they’d like to admit.

‘‘They’re both kind of — what’s the right word? — hard-nosed, edgy guys,’’ backup quarterback Josh McCown said. ‘‘I don’t mean that in a bad way. Their personalities are similar in the sense that they’re both kind of cut-to-the-chase, no-nonsense type of guys.’’

Ask Cutler about their similarities, and he laughs it off.

‘‘I do think we do have some similarities,’’ he said. ‘‘I would never coach after playing as long as he did, so he’s crazy for that.’’

In sync with Trestman

On seven teams over 10 NFL seasons, McCown has watched quarterback-minded coaches and their quarterbacks coaches clash.

‘‘I’ve seen it make for a harder or awkward dynamic,’’ he said. ‘‘But ours is unbelievable.’’

Cavanaugh, who won Super Bowls as a backup for the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, knew it would be comfortable. He and Trestman worked together on the 1996 49ers, with Cavanaugh as the quarterbacks coach and Trestman as the offensive coordinator.

‘‘I think we’re in total agreement on how a quarterback should work and play,’’ he said. ‘‘So that part has really been easy.’’

On game day, Trestman — who spends time in quarterback meetings during the week — worries about the big picture and Cavanaugh about the fundamentals.

‘‘He’s been around great ones,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘And I’m willing to show him the respect and listen to what he has to say.’’

Pittsburgh a special place

Cavanaugh isn’t shy about the city where he’s most famous. He teamed with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett to lead Pittsburgh to the 1976 national title.

He returned to the school as a coach, working with tight ends in 1993, then serving as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under his former Bears boss, Dave Wannstedt, in 2005-08.

‘‘It was obviously a real important part of my upbringing, playing football there at Pitt and being able to go back there and work a couple of times,’’ he said. ‘‘I just think they’re special people, and it’s a great place to live.’’

It would be fitting, then, if Cutler left his mentor’s city with another victory.

‘‘I just think it’s a good match for the two of them,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘Somebody Jay can look to and say, ‘This guy has done it.’ ’’

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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