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Are the Chicago Bears in Good Hands with Marc Trestman?
They went 10-6 last season but because of tiebreakers ended up missing the postseason. As a result, head coach Lovie Smith who had run the team since 2004 was fired. The move drew mixed reactions from fans. Many felt Lovie deserved to work through the end of his contract in 2013. New GM Phil Emery disagreed.
After dismissing Smith he drew an even cloudier response when he hired Canadian Football League coach Marc Trestman. Nobody knew who this 57-year old was except he’d had success in Canada, winning two titles, and was a highly respected offensive coordinator when he coached down in the NFL. Regardless, Bears fans still aren’t sure what they have. Trestman is the first offensive-minded coach Chicago has seen since Abe Gibron in the ‘70s. Mike Ditka lovers will say he was one too but Ditka was never a coordinator. He got his coaching degree on special teams and as an assistant in Dallas. This is really the first time in the long history of the Bears that a former offensive coordinator with real experience will take over a team built on a legacy of defense. So what can fans expect?
History: From the Cleveland Browns to the Oakland Raiders
Trestman does not lack for pro football experience as a coach. Since he entered the league as an assistant in 1985 he has made stops with eight different teams. Chicago will be his ninth and first as a head coach. To better understand what he brings one must look to the past first. Trestman quickly established himself in the mid-1980s as a quality quarterback coach. This was after a successful stint in college where he helped the Miami Hurricanes and their quarterback Bernie Kosar win a national championship. The two reunited again in 1988. Trestman took over as offensive coordinator in 1989 for the Cleveland Browns and the team went to the AFC championship game. Kosar led the way with over 3500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
When Trestman left he got his first big break when he joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1995. There he paired with Hall of Fame quarterback Steven Young. It was also where he began absorbing the West Coast Offense for the first time; the same scheme he will use in Chicago. His first year the 49er quarterbacks (Young missed five games with injury) threw for 28 touchdowns and 4,669 yards. In 1996 they overcame a weak running game (leading rusher had 559 yards) to post over 3,600 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Despite this success Trestman was dismissed from the team when ownership cited a need for changes. After a brief stay in Detroit he found a new home with the Arizona Cardinals. There he helped quarterback Jake Plummer and his backups overcome a general lack of talent on offense to average 3,423 passing yards per season. Arizona made the playoffs for the first time in sixteen years in 1998 and upset the Dallas Cowboys in the wild card round.
Trestman left that job for his second real break when Jon Gruden brought him in with the Oakland Raiders in 2001. The next year he became offensive coordinator and guided the best offense in football. Rich Gannon won the league MVP at quarterback with 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns. Oakland reached the Super Bowl for the first time since 1983. The coaching staff was dismantled after the next season. Trestman spent a year in Miami before returning to college. Not too long later the Montreal Alouettes called from the Canadian League. He took the job and ended up reaching three-straight title games his first three years, winning twice.
Stats – From Bernie Kosar to Steve Young and Rich Gannon
A better way for Bears fans to wrap their heads around what Trestman accomplished in the NFL, it is best to look at key statistics during his times as a play caller, which is what he will do in Chicago. In total his teams averaged 336 points in a season. By comparison, that was good enough for 22nd in the league last season. However, if one subtracts his three seasons in Arizona (when the talent was clearly lacking) that number jumps to 381, good for 14th in the league. While not world beating it is worth pointing out the last time Chicago had a top 15 offense they reached the Super Bowl in 2006.
One also must take into account Trestman didn’t coach in the NFL when the competition committee started making rule changes that favored the offense. It’s fair to wonder how good his offense will be with that in play as well.
Another key component is the quarterback position. Trestman has said repeatedly since taking over that it is the most important spot on a roster. That means his first mission is straightening out quarterback Jay Cutler. Quarterbacks under Trestman as a coordinator averaged 3,584 yards passing. None of the previous quarterbacks save for Young has the physical talent Cutler does. Young and others who have learned under Trestman say Jay will get a serious lesson in doing the little things right i.e. footwork, play selection, eye manipulation, going through progressions and timing. Trestman is known for his ability to communicate what he wants to his players while still maintaining a degree of discipline.
Word of Mouth – Jim Harbaugh offers a bright ray of hope
If assurance from great but retired players isn’t enough to sway opinions, then perhaps the tipping point came when an active and highly respected NFL head coach went on record about the hire. Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers knows lots about the new Bears new coach. They worked together in Oakland. Harbaugh, whose team went to the Super Bowl last season and finished 11th in total offense despite a quarterback change, stated that everything he learned about coaching in pro football he got from Trestman. Every technique, concept and intricacy of Harbaugh’s offensive system with the 49ers is a carbon copy of what Trestman does. The fact Harbaugh has had great success with quarterbacks in the process only makes it better. He believes Chicago didn’t just hit a home run, but a “grand slam” with the hire.
Obviously there is no way to predict how the season will play out. Still, it is usually a good sign when respected football people say nothing but good things about a coach. Trestman has a lot of work to do, but he is able, active and all-in to make it happen. This Bears offense doesn't need the talent. They need direction. That is something he can bring.