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How Marc Trestman went from CFL to Bears head coach

Marc Trestman Montreal Alouettes: CFL coach has had history helping quarterbacks including former NFL MVP Rich Gannon. Has worked with

Marc Trestman, Montreal Alouettes: CFL coach has had a history of helping quarterbacks, including former NFL MVP Rich Gannon. Has worked with Bears backup Jason Campbell and Jay Cutler in offseason.

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TRESTMAN’S
LONG ROAD
TO THE TOP

1981-82: Miami (Fla.),
volunteer assistant

1983-84: Miami (Fla.),
quarterbacks coach

1985-86: Minnesota Vikings, running backs coach

1987: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterbacks coach

1988: Cleveland Browns,
quarterbacks coach

1989: Cleveland Browns,
offensive coordinator/
quarterbacks coach

1990-91: Minnesota Vikings, quarterbacks coach

1995: San Francisco 49ers, offensive coordinator/
quarterbacks coach

1996: San Francisco 49ers, offensive coordinator

1997: Detroit Lions,
quarterbacks coach

1998-2000: Arizona Cardinals, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

2001: Oakland Raiders,
senior assistant

2002-03: Oakland Raiders, offensive coordinator/
quarterbacks coach

2004: Miami Dolphins, assistant head coach/quarterbacks

2005-06: North Carolina State, offensive coordinator

2008-12: Montreal Alouettes (CFL), head coach

2013: Chicago Bears, head coach

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Updated: February 19, 2013 2:12PM



Talk to enough people about Marc Trestman, and a name pops to mind that won’t conjure pleasant memories for Bears fans.

The Bears’ new coach is like Mike Martz in many ways.

Like Martz, the former Bears offensive coordinator, Trestman is the smartest guy in any room, a mad professor. He approaches the game from a cerebral point of view, using a highly complex system to out-scheme defenses instead of overpowering them. He’s an inventive play-caller with a pass-first mentality who has had great success working with quarterbacks.

What separates him from Martz is his flexibility. Having passed the Florida bar in 1983, he is a lawyer, a mediator. He won’t shoehorn Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall into an offense just because it’s what he knows best. He found ways for slow-footed Bernie Kosar, uber-athletic Steve Young and aging Rich Gannon to succeed despite their divergent skill sets.

‘‘He has coached so many different kinds of quarterbacks, and he has gotten the most out of them,’’ said Jon Gruden, who hired Trestman as an offensive assistant with the Oakland Raiders in 2001. ‘‘That’s what defines a good coach: getting the most out of your players.

‘‘Marc comes from the philosophy that says if the quarterback is successful, you will be successful as a team. If he can get Jay Cutler to maximize his true potential, the Bears are going to be hard to beat.’’

General manager Phil Emery has hired a coach the likes of which the Bears never before have seen. But questions swirl around the man who will be introduced as the replacement for Lovie Smith at a news conference Thursday at Halas Hall.

If he is such a logical fit, why haven’t more teams expressed interest in him and why did his path to the position once held by George Halas take a sharp detour through the Canadian Football League?

Those who have played for him can’t explain why he has been overlooked for so long, but they know one thing: His offense will be like nothing Bears fans have seen before.

‘‘I never thought I’d say the words ‘Chicago Bears’ and ‘wide-open offense’ in the same sentence, but I am now,’’ former San Francisco 49ers tight end Brent Jones said. ‘‘Bears fans should be thrilled.’’

Sports before music

Trestman grew up playing football, basketball and baseball in St. Louis Park, Minn., a comfortable Minneapolis suburb that was also home to filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen and comedian-turned-politician Al Franken. His father owned a music store, but Trestman was a jock.

‘‘He was playing sports all the time, but he was really smart,’’ said longtime NFL executive Jeff Diamond, who grew up with Trestman. ‘‘He was just a nice guy who was always fun to be around. He has got a great personality; he had that when he was young. We had a basketball hoop in our backyard, and he was always over shooting hoops and playing football in the street.’’

Trestman was an all-state quarterback during his senior year at St. Louis Park High School and accepted a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he backed up future Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy before transferring to Minnesota State-Moorhead for his senior year. He started five games for the Dragons in 1978 after taking over for Ed Schultz, now the host of MSNBC’s ‘‘The Ed Show.’’

‘‘He was a very celebrated recruit,’’ former Golden Gophers safety George Adzick said. ‘‘He came in as a passing quarterback with great athletic ability and ended up playing his freshman year because of an injury to Tony. Frankly, Tony was going to be the quarterback at Minnesota, but Mark was right there pushing him.’’

After Trestman went undrafted, his childhood friend Diamond, who was a few years older and had landed a job with the Minnesota Vikings, signed him to a free-agent contract as a defensive back. Despite playing defense for the first time since high school, Trestman made it to the final cut and left an impression on future Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant.

A few years later, Trestman was attending law school at Miami and coaching quarterbacks when he helped Kosar and the Hurricanes win their first national title in 1983. That’s when Grant gave him his first NFL coaching opportunity.

‘‘I didn’t know anything about him when I hired him,’’ Grant said. ‘‘You take a chance when you hire somebody in their 20s, but he’s done well since then, although it’s not because of anything I imparted on him.’’

Trestman would be reunited with Kosar on the Cleveland Browns in 1988. He was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator in 1989, and the Browns advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

Managing investments

Trestman had been an NFL assistant for seven years when Dennis Green chose not to retain him when he was hired to coach the Vikings in 1992.

Trestman moved back to South Florida. There, he sold municipal bonds and managed investment portfolios for three years before the 49ers hired him to replace Mike Shanahan as offensive coordinator after Shanahan accepted the head-coaching job with the
Denver Broncos.

‘‘He had been moving a lot and wanted to set some roots down, and he always loved South Florida from when he went to law school,’’ Diamond said. ‘‘But he was always a coach at heart. He loved the game so much, it was only a matter of time before he came back.’’

The 49ers led the league in points scored with Trestman calling plays during the 1995 season, but 1996 was a different story. Running back Ricky Watters had left for the Philadelphia Eagles, and fullback William Floyd still was recovering from a devastating knee injury. Terry Kirby led the one-dimensional 49ers with 559 rushing yards.

When the 49ers’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Packers in Green Bay, coach George
Seifert was forced to retire. When owner Eddie DeBartolo was questioned about Trestman’s status at the news conference, he grabbed a microphone and blurted: ‘‘He’s gone.’’

‘‘We had one of the most explosive offenses that season with virtually no running game,’’ Jones said. ‘‘It’s so much easier to defend a team with a weak running game, and weak would’ve been an upgrade for us. Looking back, it was miraculous what we did. Expectations were out of this world, and [firing him] was an expectation-driven decision. But he worked magic with a bad hand.’’

Trestman spent a season with the Detroit Lions, and Scott Mitchell threw for 3,484 yards, which was the second-most in team history at the time. He helped Jake Plummer to his best season with the Arizona Cardinals and was their offensive coordinator when they won their first playoff game in 51 years.

Gruden hired Trestman as an offensive assistant the next season. When Gruden left for the Buccaneers, the Raiders promoted Trestman to offensive coordinator before the 2002 season. The Raiders led the league in offense, and Gannon was named the NFL’s most valuable player that season, which ended with a loss to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.

‘‘He never got the credit he deserved for the Raiders’ offense during the Super Bowl run,’’ Jones said. ‘‘He was the driver of that. Nowadays, top coordinators like that immediately get top coaching jobs.’’

In 2003, Gannon missed nine games because of injuries and then-coach Bill Callahan eventually would call his players ‘‘the dumbest team in America.’’ The Raiders collapsed like a house of cards, and Trestman was swept aside when Callahan was dismissed by owner Al Davis after a 4-12 season.

‘‘If anybody has had worse timing in the NFL that Marc Trestman, I don’t know who he is,’’ Gannon said.

O, Canada

Montreal Alouettes general manager Jim Popp invited Trestman to be a guest coach at training camp in 2007. This was after Trestman’s one-year stint as offensive coordinator at North Carolina State ended when head coach Chuck Amato was fired.

Popp knew Trestman because Popp’s father had been on the Browns’ staff with Trestman in 1989. Popp would name him coach the next year, and Trestman would go on to lead the team to three Grey Cup appearances and two titles while compiling a 53-26 record in five seasons.

It was an unusual move but a necessary one in Trestman’s mind because it gave him the head-coaching experience that might help him land an NFL job.

‘‘It never made sense to me,’’ Diamond said when asked why Trestman didn’t have more NFL opportunities. ‘‘I can’t think of any specific reason. It was a mistake. He has been extremely qualified with a long track record of success. He has had so much success with quarterbacks, and quarterback play has never been more important than it is now.

‘‘It just doesn’t make sense. He’s someone who should’ve been tapped by an NFL team a long time ago.’’



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