Marc Trestman is a former college quarterback who was certainly known in and around football. He had 17 years of experience in the NFL with eight different organizations. He worked as a running backs’ coach, a quarterbacks’ coach and an offensive coordinator; he coached college ball too. He was a football savant but rubbed people the wrong way. And then...he disappeared.
The football world knew he was in Canada but didn’t pay too much attention to that, according to Yahoo! Sports writer Les Carpenter. Trestman had spent the last five years in Montreal coaching the Alouettes; he led the team to back-to-back Grey Cup championships, that’s Canada’s version of the Super Bowl. He was the CFL’s Coach of the Year in 2009.
So what changed? Why after years of being bounced around the NFL was he suddenly this successful head coach? Carpenter traveled to Canada to find out.
“I think he went up there and he realized, ‘I need to understand people. I need to deal with football players as people--not as names on a roster sheet or numbers in front of me on jerseys.’ And I think a lot of the players really embraced that. They felt, ‘gosh, this is a guy who really cares about me,’” Carpenter explained.
That’s certainly how Alouette wide receiver Brandon London felt…eventually.
“I didn’t think that we were going to get along...because I was thinking in my head, here’s a coach that’s going to try and change me. But after that three years of being together, Coach Trestman’s become a really good friend of mine, (a) really good mentor of mine,” London said.
And London’s not starving for football mentors. His father’s Mike London, a former NFL player and the current head coach at the University of Virginia.
But, London said Trestman made him think about football in a very different, very detailed way. Or as he put it, “obsessive.” And Carpenter concurred.
“He wants things to be very meticulous...almost to the point where there can’t be typos in the schedule that they put out every day for the things that they’re going to do,” Carpenter explained.
Trestman’s current players had even more to say about his character.
“I always say Coach Trestman reminds me of the first Willy Wonka...not the Johnny Depp one, the Johnny Depp one’s really cool...but the first one. Cause if you really look at coach, he’s a genius...I thought Willy Wonka was brilliant,” tight end Martellus Bennett said recently.
And, the candy man, like Trestman, for those who don’t remember, had an eye for detail.
It makes sense that Trestman is a meticulous guy. He is, after all, an attorney. He got his law degree while working as an assistant coach under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami. Between NFL gigs in the ‘90s, Trestman also spent a few years working as a stockbroker, selling municipal bonds and managing investment portfolios.
Oh...and he wrote a book about perseverance and leadership and he is frequently referred to as a genius. But Carpenter said that Trestman’s smarts often rubbed people the wrong way.
“I think it was some of the bookish look, the lawyerish look as somebody described it to me...I think some of it was that idea that he wasn’t going to come out drinking, he wasn’t going to hang out in bars with other coaches,” Carpenter surmised.
That seemed to be something Trestman was able to work through in Montreal. Because London called him a friend and Bears tight end Martellus Bennett now says the Bears look at their coach as one of the players.
“He’s just like of the guys out there...he’s like a teammate to us, he’s not just a coach...he’s part of this team,” Bennett explained.
WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout has covered the Monsters of the Midway for the better part of three decades. She wasn’t sold on the Wonka analogy but said, “If they [the Bears] could make the playoffs, then the Golden Ticket I think would be punched then.”
She said the surest way to do that is to get Jay Cutler to buy in--and that shouldn’t be too difficult for Trestman. He coached some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He coached Steve Young and Rich Gannon; Gannon won the NFL MVP during Trestman’s time with the Oakland Raiders.
And, Raye-Stout said, Trestman has already put in extra time with Cutler.
“Trestman took all of every negative play that Cutler had last year...all the sacks, all the interceptions, all the bad plays and showed it to him. To kind of show him, this is what we’re gonna work on. Jay was taken aback at first and then realized, he was dealing with someone that was not just on his level but above his level,” Raye-Stout recalled.
At the end of the day, Bears fans won’t care if Trestman is Willy Wonka, a lawyer, a quarterbacks coach, a stockbroker or a genius...so long as he’s a winner.
Katie O’Brien is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow her @katieobez.