This is my first posting on WCG, I could not resist joining the discussion of Marc Trestman. When Montreal GM Jim Popp (himself an NFL GM candidate these past few years, and bar none, the best GM in the CFL) hired Trestman, I was ecstatic. I knew that this offensive guru would be the guy to finally "polish the product" we had in all-CFL Anthony Calvillo. Already an all-star up here, the QB needed to iron a few kinks out of his game to shake his reputation as a choker, and solidify his position as the best CFL QB ever (before you diss it, remember that Doug Flutie and Warren Moon are, rather, were in that discussion). Among these kinks were a deer-in-the-headlights approach to pass rush pressure, a penchant for ill-timed interceptions and an unwillingness to get rid of the ball instead of taking bad sacks. And let us not forget, a private, religious man with a tendancy to show his frustration and wear his emotions on his sleeve at times. Sound familiar?
I knew about Trestman since the 80's, and kept an eye on his career progression throughout the following two decades. To me, he was made of the same mad scientist cloth that gave us Mouse Davis, June Jones and Mike Martz, to name a few: good enough to dazzle us as an OC, until the game caught up to them. And, by no means, ideal HC candidates in the NFL. Marc must have felt like a kid in a candy store when he caught up to the characteristics of the CLF game: yes, only 3 downs, but 12-men squads, huge field, unlimited motion by WR/RBs before the snap? Then, he was also joining the most stable organization in the CFL, with a ready-for-more-primetime QB, a stable of great WRs and a competent OL tradition.
And that is exactly what happened in Montreal. Yes, there were some comical moments at times, as he struggled with the finer nuances of clock and personel management, but from the beginning, the offense took off like it never did before. As was anticipated, though, a balanced approach this was not meant to be, and despite having some of the best RB play in the league, the run disappeared at times, with the expected drop off in unpredictability and clock management. But what did it matter, as Anthony Calvillo became a master of West Coast style offense, with shorter 3-5 step drops and quicker reads? OL play, already good, became stellar, and even the RBs adapted, relying on smaller, quicker athletes great at pass routes but also pass protection.
It also helped that the Alouettes played in arguably the CFL's weakest division, year in and year out, and were virtually guaranteed a playoff spot, with home field advantage.
Trestman became a god in Montreal, with nary anyone questioning the guru's approach, even as some more sophisticated fans became worried about tendancies, and the inevitable return of the pendulum: other teams were quickly adapting, but the HC would not. Of course, questioning the guy in blogs became hazardous to one's health: why tinker with what's working?
Over the past couple of years, some developments became perplexing to us hard-core fans. There was the hiring of a ST coach who had never coached special teams before, with the expected disastrous results. But who cares, when you're still winning? So what if turnovers increased, if field position battles were increasingly lost, and the offense was producing more and more 2-and-dones (the CFL's version of 3-and-outs) from deeper in its territory? The defense's bend-but-don't break approach seemed to continue working. And who needs spectacular ST play when you have the best offense in the league?
Then, there was the hiring of a DC who changed the defensive scheme, from a Tampa Cover 2 to a 3-4 with some blitz thrown in. This is not the kind of change that initiates a lot of discussion in the less-sophisticated fan base in Montreal. Only a few nutjobs or former DL-turned-commentators noticed, and expressed concern. The others guffawed: so what? Jim Popp, the best talent finder in the CFL, will find the players who fit the system, and too bad if we let veteran leadership go when they don't fit anymore. There's more where that came from. Again, a particularity of the CFL is that you can reinvent yourself in a season or two, with the Canadian amateur draft (there are quotas) but mostly picking up American imports. Montreal has been Tweenerville for 15 years, where great 'ballers come to prove the NFL talent-evaluators wrong.
A funny thing happened in the 2012 season with this DC, though. The proverbial chickens came home to roost, with this latest Trestman gamble: defensive players revolted, at times in front of cameras during games. Shouting matches with the DC happen, mind you, but not so systematically, with veterans begging for certain adjustments, only to be succeeded by disgust when the DC wouldn't comply, or the HC would not step in. Indiscipline hurts in many ways, and penalties are one of them; frustration bubbled over, and no matter how great the offensive fireworks, the uneven defense and lousy ST play ended up hurting the team, with a disastrous and predictable showing in the playoffs.
As disturbing developments started to mount, I started to do a bit of digging into the circumstances of Trestman being available to the Alouettes. An OC with his track-record leaving the NFL seemingly before the next step (HC consideration) to go coach at NC State (more known for its hoops than gridiron greatness) did sound suspect at the time. Going back to the early 90's, there had been whispers that Trestman, a brainy guy, was not the easiest to work with on coaching staffs, with a somewhat abrasive style that rubbed former players-turned-coaches the wrong way. His evident intellectual superiority did not mask the fact that teamwork carries the day on coaching staffs, and that no facet of the game exists in a vaccuum.
A storyline began to form in my mind: no one was going to challenge Trestman, as long as he was winning, because no one had the werewithal to do so in Montreal, not even Jim Popp, too proud of having attracted top NFL coaching talent to eventually admit a mistake. Coordinators can be fired, players can be found to fit systems, with no one being the wiser in a less-sophisticated media and fan environment.
This off-season, coaches started leaving Montreal in droves, leaving a bleak picture whereby Trestman would have a brand new staff again (new OC, DC, ST, etc.). Would he make the same strategic mistakes, choosing the wrong guy? His OC would be in name only again, with the HC really the ones calling the plays, à la Sean Payton; his DC would find a disastrous situation waiting, trying to make the most out of having a quick-strike offense leaving a defense hung out to dry too often in terms of time of possession and balance. The fact that soon-to-be 41 year old Anthony Calvillo would again be there may not be enough to allow yet another CFL equivalent of the Manning-era Colts situation (all-offense, defense almost an afterthought) to lead to playoff participation, especially with the rest of the Eastern division finally catching up.
I'm not privy to the personnel and coordinator challenges awaiting Trestman in Chicago, but to this casual observer, it does not seem like an ideal match.
First, while at first glance the ingredients are there to allow for a Flying Circus to thrive in Chicago (Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, etc.), there are some that seem missing: the OL has been an unmitigated disaster that even a switch to a West Coast, quick-read/quick-strike 3-5 step drop offense could not cure; a 40 percent run/60 percent pass ratio would not sit well with Forte; there's no guarantee of a good rapport either with Cutler, the poster-child for frustration, or Marshall, the runner-up for same. And of course, playing your home games outside in the NFC North is not all that conducive to success with a pass-happy offense, present circumstances in Green Bay excepted.
Second, there's the matter of the defense. Even being hands off, like Trestman seems to have been in Montreal, HC philosophy requires harmony between offensive and defensive systems. I don't have to tell you about Mike Martz and what pressures that brought to your defense. Conceivably, the next DC can expect to face a losing time-of-possession battle proposition in most games, which warrants a young and athletic defense. I did not see that this year in Chicago. The NFL is not the CFL, where you can quickly change defensive philosophies and personnel: changing course often means supertanker-like direction-changing speed, not cigarette-boat.
Third, attracting the right coordinators would be a challenge. He's been out of the NFL game for a long while, with no known buddies in the defensive community. Conventional wisdom would then require going for a defensive guru with HC experience. Those kinds of situation can be dicey, with the incoming DC expecting almost total control on all-things defense, and require an exceptional teamwork atmosphere in the coaching implement. Trestman did not go that route in Montreal, with his last DC not being a threat to his own leadership.
A Trestman honeymoon in the Windy City would likely be short, and the coach would be on a short-leash with a brash media environment and sophisticated fanbase (or is it the other way around?), especially this soon after the Mike Martz debacle. I'm sure Cutler does not relish the idea of another go around of running for his life behind a dysfunctional OL; Marshall does not want to forego downfield success in favour of ball-control West Coast passing; Forte is not ecstatic that he would mostly turn into a pass-blocking, pass catching afterthought, not the 25 carry beast with exceptional receiving skills that he has been.
I like Trestman the coach as an OC; I can't pretend to like the man, whose availability to fans and media has been minimum in a city used to rubbing elbows with the HC in a fan-friendly environment at a cozy stadium. There's an understandable distance that he's kept with an unsophisticated media and fanbase, and he's no Rex Ryan in his loving of the spotlight. I'd probably have done the same if I were him. I wish we can keep him as HC up here, but his ego has perhaps gotten too big for the organization's longterm good. I'm afraid that when he leaves, the cupboard will have been left bare, with succession being an issue at several key positions in both the FO and on the team.
I'm just convinced that your team is not the ideal situation for his first HC gig in the NFL, for all the reasons stated above. I wish you all the luck in finding the right fit.