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The Chicago Bears With the Most Compelling Hire of the Offseason (Non-Chip Kelly Division), Go North of the Border to Get Marc Trestman

Marc Trestman will be a head coach in the near future, Ernie Accorsi said–in 1989. Twenty-four years later, Marc Trestman is the head coach of the Chicago Bears, having traversed the winding path least traveled. Trestman was most recently the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, and becomes the first coach to go from CFL head coach to NFL head coach since Frank Kush in 1982.

Kush is more appropriately considered a college coach, though, as he coached Arizona State for twenty years, before being fired and moving to Canada for one season between taking the Baltimore job. Hugh Campbell is the last long-time CFL coach to join the NFL, as he won five Grey Cups with the Edmonton Eskimos, then went to the USFL for one season with the LA Express, before re-joining his CFL quarterback, Warren Moon, in Houston. Before that, it was Forrest Gregg, who joined Cincinnati and reached a Super Bowl after one season north of the border, and Marv Levy, who just like Trestman coached the Montreal Allouettes for five seasons before going to the Kansas City Chiefs. Bud Grant, like Levy, was also a success in the CFL before coaching in the NFL.

Although Trestman is most recently a CFL coach, he is also older school NFL. He was the Josh McDaniels of the 1980’s–the hot young offensive assistant who looked to be on the fast track to success. At the age of 27, he was the quarterbacks coach at Miami with Bernie Kosar when the Hurricanes stunned Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their first national title. He left for the NFL two years later, when Schnellenberger left Miami. In 1988, he was in Cleveland, and became part of a power struggle after Marty Schottenheimer left. Owner Art Modell promoted him to offensive coordinator, before hiring Bud Carson as head coach. Trestman was too young then (33 years old) but looked to be on the fast track. Cleveland reached the championship game that season, but there were rumors and reports of discord. Carson fired him after the season, then he himself was gone less than a year later when the team fell apart.

Two years later, Trestman was out of the NFL, and practicing law (he got his law degree while at Miami). He had other opportunities to return to the NFL or to coach in college, but came back to replace Mike Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco after Shanahan took the Denver job.

Trestman inherited a great team, and great expectations. His stint in San Francisco was subject to criticism, and Eddie DeBartolo brought in Bill Walsh as an advisor in 1996, creating some issues. Carmen Policy famously and dismissively said of Trestman after that season: “He’s gone.”

Trestman worked with Jake Plummer in Arizona, and then was on the Oakland staff from 2001 to 2003, working with Rich Gannon. When Jon Gruden left, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, again working with Jerry Rice and getting a MVP season out of Rich Gannon when the Raiders threw the ball all over the field. By the middle of the last decade, he had moved from hot coaching prospect fifteen years earlier, to getting to the edge of being too old. He had been in the running but not gotten head coaching jobs in college–at his alma mater Minnesota nor at Miami after Butch Davis left. He went north of the border to finally become a head coach.

I like this move, or at least the thought process behind it. We’ll never know how this will work out, but it shows a boldness and unwillingness by GM Phil Emery just to follow the safe route. How will a CFL coach work out? I don’t think comparing to things that last happened thirty years ago will help. There is no data point in my study on the success of college coaches, who rated highly even before Jim Harbaugh’s success. It’s actually defensive coordinators who have the lowest success rate, and that’s a path that the Bears have traveled a lot with varying degrees of success. Marc Trestman is the first head coach with an offensive background since Mike Ditka.

Trestman has plenty of experience in the NFL, both successes and failures. He has been associated with numerous other successful head coaches, including Jon Gruden and Pete Carroll. He has now been in charge of actually making decisions (granted, in a different league) and handling personnel and personalities as the final authority. Has he learned over the years? Is he the hotshot that has been humbled and learned how to handle things with the wisdom of diverse experiences? Trestman, sporting his glasses and with his lawyer background, appears bookish. He does not fit the stereotype of the yelling neanderthal coach. That stereotype often does not match the most successful coaches in NFL history either.

I don’t know if he will succeed moving into a pretty good roster, and having a strong-armed quarterback to work with, but I do know that Chicago, in a year when Chip Kelly has flirted with the NFL (and now is reportedly back in), just made the most compelling and interesting hire of the offseason this side of Eugene.

[photo via USA Today Sports Images]

 

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