Commentary

Class is in session

Marc Trestman ready to teach Offense 101 to Jay Cutler, Bears

Updated: January 18, 2013, 10:44 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Wide receiver Cris Carter was in professional limbo when he signed with the Minnesota Vikings early in the 1991 season. Released by Buddy Ryan and the Philadelphia Eagles, he needed a change in his life. He found one in Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMarc Trestman's attention to detail was one of the qualities that impressed Phil Emery, as well as Trestman's former players.

Carter connected with a 30-something coach named Marc Trestman.

"My career really blossomed under him and Tom Moore," Carter said on the phone Wednesday. "Those guys identified my ability and thought about developing the passing game around me. They gave me the confidence to get me to the height of my career."

Moore, later famous for directing Peyton Manning's offense in Indianapolis, was the assistant head coach in Minnesota, and Trestman was the quarterbacks coach.

How did the quarterbacks coach help the receiver? Trestman helped Carter become a quarterback's best friend.

"He was trying to get me to understand football the way coaches understand and make me think like a coach on the field," Carter said. "This was the first time I had encountered someone as a pro who took me under their wing and taught me how the pro passing game operates."

Trestman, with his glasses and his professorial mien, looks more like a teacher than your archetypal football coach. This Bears team doesn't need Mike Ditka or an imitation. It didn't need Bill Cowher's chin. It didn't need a yeller just because Lovie Smith wasn't one.

Trestman got hired to be the 14th head coach of the Chicago Bears to teach the remedial Offense 101 class at Halas Hall, starting with the bad boy student himself, Jay Cutler.

Because whether or not they want to put the onus on Cutler, this move was made with him in mind. You didn't see too many defensive coordinators interview for this job, did you?

"The No. 1 marriage in all of sports is the marriage between the quarterback and the coach," Trestman said at his introduction to Chicago on Thursday afternoon. "That's it. It starts there and everything proceeds from there."

Trestman also knows what Cutler is going through as far as scrutiny. In his leadership book/autobiography "Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork," he writes about being scapegoated for problems in San Francisco, where he led two playoff offenses at the end of George Seifert's time, and in Oakland, where he helped get the Raiders to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2002 season.

But as Trestman told a few reporters Thursday, after writing the book, he had to realize some of that was on him, too.

Trestman, 57, wasn't the sexy choice for this job. He knows Jon Gruden but he's not Gruden. For those folks who didn't follow his peripatetic career, I highly recommend reading his book. He explains everything. He started his coaching career as a volunteer by convincing Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger to let him tutor their two redshirt quarterbacks, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. This was while he was in law school.

Between 1991 and 1995, he took time off to be a municipal bond broker after seven years coaching in the NFL.

At one point during his stint as the Arizona Cardinals' offensive coordinator in 1998-2000, he was the highest-paid in the league.

He learned presentation and leadership from Gruden. He ran no-huddle with Jake Plummer.

He has to be the only coach in NFL history to help send Cleveland, Detroit and Arizona to the playoffs.

"That's something that is part of his résumé that is certainly positive," Seifert told me in a phone call. "All these things he's done over the years is the foundation of what you're getting in a good football coach."

But he never got that opportunity for a head-coaching gig in the NFL until now.

"I've been in this stuff too long, it's all about timing, everything is about timing," said Rams assistant and one-time Bears coach Dave McGinnis in a phone call with ESPN Chicago's Melissa Isaacson.

Carter said Trestman was "pigeon-holed" as a quarterbacks guy. As it turned out, that's exactly what the Bears need right now.

But for all his travels, his name recognition was so faint that five years ago, when Trestman was hired to coach the Montreal Alouettes, his quarterback Anthony Calvillo had to Google him.

Calvillo was immediately won over by Trestman's openness, how he called veterans to talk shop, and didn't come in like an imperialistic NFL coach. He was flexible. But he was also strict on preparation. His practices were quick.

"Everything was so detailed," Calvillo said in a phone call. "I've never been around a coach so detailed about your drops, where you hold the ball, the alignment of the receivers. Once everyone was on the same page, we knew we had the best chances of success."

Despite never having coached in the CFL, where the rules are as unfamiliar as the recipe for poutine, Trestman won two Grey Cups.

Trestman will be calling the plays and working with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, late of the New Orleans Saints, to craft a gameplan. Trestman will sit in the quarterbacks meetings. He will be connected at the hip with Cutler.

Calvillo said Trestman's eye for detail is a thing to behold and it's challenging for players to conform. Cutler needs to fix his mechanical flaws and his lapses in fundamentals. This isn't a secret. Trestman wouldn't call out Cutler. But he will teach him.

"Part of the calendar is getting together with Jay and taking it play by play throughout the (2012) season and evaluating his performance in different ways," Trestman said. "On a macro level and a micro level. The big things he wants to improve on and we want him to improve on, and the micro level, from taking a snap to dropping back and throwing the football and everything in between. It's a meticulous process. That's the way it's going to start."

Trestman, who trained Cutler before the draft during his consultant phase, got reacquainted with him Monday during the interview process. He said they never opened their lunches because they were talking so much.

When he asked the loaded question of whether or not Cutler is "a franchise quarterback," Trestman chose not to go the easy route and just say yes.

"Jay Cutler is a guy who loves football," he said instead. "Jay Cutler is a guy who's willing to learn. Jay Cutler to me, in my very short time with him, wants to do everything he can to help this franchise and please our amazing fans. That's where we're going to start. One day at a time, proactively with a sense of urgency to get him to be the guy he wants to be and we want him to be."

He said Cutler "will have the keys to the car," but stressed he had to be efficient, which isn't his strength. He knows how it important it was to keep Cutler protected. It's tough to have perfect throwing mechanics when you're constantly under pressure.

Kromer is well-respected throughout the league and spent the last five years in New Orleans, including the first six of 2012 as the interim-interim head coach. But Trestman knows protection as well. In his first season as coach, the team gave up 46 fewer sacks (68 to 22) in 87 more pass attempts than the previous year, when the Alouettes were the worst in the league at protection, without changing any starters.

So what did he do?

"There's a standard practice in our league on how to block certain blitzes, popping out offensive linemen to block linebackers and leaving the middle pocket vulnerable to one-on-one battles with guys you don't want to block one-on-one.

"So he had them protect from the inside out, with as many double-teams inside as possible. Our protections changed week in and week out, but the base was inside-out."

No other team in the CFL was blocking like this, Calvillo said. But it worked.

Don't worry about West Coast offense or putting labels on what the Bears are going to do offensively. Trestman's track record shows an ability to react to certain situations and be flexible.

"Your philosophy is fluid," he said. "It changes year in and year out."

But that doesn't mean you don't prepare the same way. In Trestman's first interview, he won over general manager Phil Emery with a detailed plan for the future.

"He presented me a calendar that was a 13-month calendar. so where does that take you to? From the time of the interview to where?" Emery said.

"Up until the parade," Trestman said later during a sitdown with reporters. "I think you have to start at the parade."

He wasn't being presumptuous, he said. The parade is the symbol for the destination, and once you know where you're going, you can begin to prepare.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Michael DeHoog/Getty ImagesMarc Trestman said he's going to give Jay Cutler the keys to the car, but he's going to help him learn how to drive efficiently.

But it wasn't just the symbolism that impressed Emery.

"Every day accounted for, every time slot accounted for, every meeting accounted for," he said of the schedule. "And not only that, but he included the provisions of our CBA, which takes a nuclear scientist to figure out exactly what you can do."

Seifert said Trestman stood out when he got interviewed to join the 49ers after their Super Bowl win. He was replacing Mike Shanahan, who replaced Mike Holmgren.

"One coach said (Trestman) was the smartest guy he met in the interview," Seifert said.

Trestman hasn't gotten any dumber over the years.

"I'm excited," Carter said. "I think the NFL needs fresh coaches, not fresh to the NFL, but guys getting a shot to run a whole football team. A lot of these teams recycle. I believe Marc is one of the best teachers, especially now with the game focused around the QB. He's such a teacher of the game."

Class is now in session.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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