Richard Wolowicz, Getty
A bright offensive mind who's journey led him across the NFL for 20 years, and then to Canada, and finally here to Chicago.
Marc Trestman has been sharpening his skills up in the north. After a land with 3 downs, monstrous fields, and things they like to call 'offence and defence', his presence here in Chicago is to bolster a lagging offense. He comes to this destnation after a long road travelled with some of the great offensive minds of the WCO tree.
Trestman's history begins with Bill Walsh in the late 1980's, where as the Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach he met Walsh while he was an analyst for NBC after his retirement from the 49ers in 1988. It was an apprentice seeking a master, and the two met often over the next few years to open Trestman's mind to the brilliance of imagination and communication that Bill Walsh was known for. He studied the system, he asked questions, he analyzed Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, and started actively crafting his own product in 1995 under George Seifert in San Francisco.
During his first season the Niners were #1 in points and #2 in total offense, continuing the level of success that Shanahan had during his tenure in San Francisco with Steve Young and Jerry Rice. His NFL career took him to Detroit, Arizona, Oakland, and Miami in the next 8 years, and help built the careers of Jake Plummer and Rich Gannon and studied under the tutelage of Jon Gruden.
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In 2007, the Montreal Alouettes invited Trestman to be a guest coach during training camp. In 2008, they took the step to hire the Bill Walsh disciple. With a field almost 12 yards wider than a traditional NFL field, you can just hear the words 'utilize the whole field' being spoken by Bill Walsh into Trestman's ear over the past 5 years.
To that he adapted his schemes to the CFL's 12-player, ever shifting backfields, and wider fields, and put it in the hands of Alouette veteran Anthony Calvillo. Behind Calvillo's arm, the Alouettes' aggressive passing game turned the 37 year old into an MVP. The very next year Trestman and Calvillo repeated the trick of MVP and Grey Cup. With words like 'masterfully detail-oriented', 'meticulous', 'imaginative', we get a greater idea why Emery has spent as much time with Trestman as he has this offseason. Phil Emery must have seen himself in Trestman, and what Phil Emery sees in himself as being a positive, seeing it in others opens them up. His time in Montreal hasn't just been developing offense though, Brad Biggs quoted Montreal's GM, Jim Popp, as saying
"He’s very articulate and he’s very organized – he’s one of the most organized people I’ve been around. He is well spoken. He is very good at speaking to the team. These are things that came out in the interviews when I was trying to figure out what the next best thing for our club was. He’s got that organizational skill set and I don’t doubt one bit that with his experience in the NFL he would be able to put together a great coaching staff together. He’s proven himself as a head coach at a professional level. You can call it what you want but on-hand training as a head coach and proof goes a long way, goes a real long way. You can’t replace that."
Trestman has been working with one of the great GM's in the CFL under Jim Popp, and Emery would like to provide the same level of complementary flexibility with Trestman in his move from the CFL to NFL.
Not just satisfied with coaching the Alouettes and developing Anthony Cavillo into the most prolific passer in all of football, Trestman moonlighted as a QB consultant for potential draftees, and most notably have worked with: Jay Cutler, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler. Obviously you have to look at Trestman having a history with Cutler to have impacted his hiring in Chicago, and at least a small sense of familiarity that doesn't require a relationship to start from scratch. Trestman's work with Cutler before he joined another Bill Walsh disciple in Denver with Mike Shanahan, probably had some impact in Cutler's ability to pick up and run with Shanahan's offense in his first few years in Denver to great success.
These are things that translate well to the NFL. The CFL is no different than the NCAA ranks, it's a path to give coordinators the hands on opportunity to know what it takes to run a professional level organization. The CFL may even be a better opportunity to replicate the NFL when you remove the impact that recruiting has in Division I football. The CFL isn't a place where you just say 'but it's half rate talent, what works there won't work here', because GM's need to evaluate more than just a scheme, they have to evaluate a mind and it's ability to adapt regardless of personnel. His NFL scheme changed in Montreal to the arcane rules of CFL and the players he had. That's flexibility instead of rigidity, it's adapting to your surroundings, your weaknesses, and your strengths, and those are traits of successful coaches.
What Trestman brings to the table is a branch of the West Coast Offense. The WCO system brings you a mixed bag of talent, of ideas, and of principles. In the past 10 years in the NFL, you've seen hyperaccurate dink and dunk QB's, power rushing attacks, and to move with the NFL these days, an added mix of aggressive downfield shots all carry the name WCO. Look at how Mike McCarthy runs his scheme, predicated on short throws as an extension of the running game, and deep, well planned shots that freeze up defenses. It's not rocket science, but it does take established, quality talent. Trestman's particular blend of WCO is closer to McCarthy's than say Andy Reid or Brad Childress' version, as in it's less predicated on the ground game, but more about using the passing game as an extension of the running game, using running game to keep defenses honest and score touchdowns, much like Martz employed, and pushing the defenses outside to open up the inside with team speed.
If Cutler's going to flourish in this system, it's going to have to be by going 2 steps back with Trestman, reimagining and rebuilding the Jay Cutler under Mike Shanahan in 2008 and trying to build on that scheme and familiarity that Cutler started his career with. It's about not only crafting things that look great on paper, but in identifying what Cutler's strengths are, develop something that works to bring out those strengths. In the WCO, Cutler's accuracy and arm strength, along with his legs, allow him to make a lot of throws and drive the ball deep with power when they take their shots downfield. and pair those with two receivers who have YAC written all over them in Marshall and Jeffery? What's concerning is the black cloud hanging over the head of other skill players in learning the WCO. Complex, strong systems aren't easy to learn. The good news is, Cutler and Marshall, the Bears 2 top skill players are both WCO familiar, and Forte and Bush both can find themselves used effectively in the scheme, in ways that could look a bit like Andy Reid's work with LeSean McCoy.
Obviously the 1500 pound gorilla in the room, the offensive line, is the greatest source of concern for what the Bears plan to do moving forward. WCO teams are no worse or better than other systems in terms of reducing sacks or improving the run game. What Trestman must do is find that balance of protection and potency to not only keep Cutler up, but keep the offense moving forward, by getting his receivers space to get yards and move the chains without resorting to throwing the ball deep if the defense can't afford it.
What's Trestman like defensively? He's much more of a question mark as to what his preferences are, or what they would be in the NFL, other than his predilection for instilling 'aggressiveness'. He embodies that as a playcaller constantly pushing the gas, which is something that always was muted under Lovie Smith, and prefers to set the tempo with scoring instead of playing chicken with slim margins and a good defense. Jerry Porter, former Oakland WR, said
"With Trestman, if we're up by 14, we're going to try and go up by 21. Rather than milk the clock and coast on in with a win."
Can you imagine Lovie Smith not just handing it to his defense to win?
It's going to be a wild, wild ride the next few years Bears fans. Here's to Trestman being the solution the Bears offense was in dire need of.