Marc Trestman: Lawyer, Willy Wonka, Genius Or Just Plain Old Coach?

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Marc Trestman head coach of the Chicago Bears. (Don Wright/AP)
Marc Trestman took an unusual route to become the head coach of the Chicago Bears. (Don Wright/AP)

Marc Trestman is a former college quarterback who had 17 years of experience in the NFL with eight different organizations. He’d been a running back coach, a quarterback coach, and an offensive coordinator. He also coached college ball. He was a football savant, but rubbed people the wrong way.

“He disappeared, for years. You kind of knew he was in Canada but no one really paid much attention to that,” said Yahoo! Sports writer Les Carpenter.

Trestman spent the last five years in Montreal coaching the Alouettes who he led to back-to-back Grey Cup championships. 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?

“I think he went up there and he realized, I need to deal with football players as people — not as names on a roster sheet or numbers in front of me on jerseys," Carpenter said. "I think a lot of the players really embraced that. They felt, 'Gosh, this is a guy who really cares about me.'”

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,'" London said. "But after that, three years of being together, Coach Trestman’s become a really good friend of mine, really good mentor of mine.”

And London’s not hurting for football mentors. His father is Mike London a former NFL player and the current head coach at the University of Virginia.

But he said Trestman made him think about football in a very different, very detailed way.

It could be described, using London's words, as "obsessive.”

"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 said.

Trestman’s current players have even more to say about his character.

“I always say Coach Trestman reminds me of the first Willy Wonka," Tight end Martellus Bennett said. "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.”

The candy man, like Trestman, if you’ll recall, 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 also working as an assistant coach under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami.

He also spent a few years working as a stockbroker between NFL gigs in the ‘90s--selling municipal bonds and managing investment portfolios.

Plus, he wrote a book about perseverance and leadership and is frequently referred to as a genius.

But Carpenter said Trestman’s smarts rubbed people the wrong way for a while.

“I think it was some of the bookish look, the lawyerish look as somebody described it to me,” Carpenter said. “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.”

That seems to be something Trestman was able to work through in Montreal because London calls him a friend.

“We look at Coach Trestman as one of the players," Bennett said. "He’s just like one of the guys out there. He’s like a teammate to us. He’s not just a coach. He’s part of this team.”

WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout has been covering the Monsters of the Midway for the better part of three decades.

She’s not sure about the Wonka analogy, but, "If they could make the playoffs, then the Golden Ticket I think would be punched then,” she said.

The surest way to do that, she said, is to get Jay Cutler to buy in, and that shouldn't be too difficult for Trestman. He’s coached some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. He coached Steve Young and Rich Gannon. Gannon won the NFL MVP in 2002 during Trestman’s time in Oakland.

He made it clear from the moment he arrived in Chicago he’s committed to Cutler.

“The formula for success for a quarterback in the NFL is too complicated to project,” Trestman said.  “And we know that over the years that we think a guy’s gonna make it, and then he doesn't. You know the number one marriage in all of sports is the marriage between a quarterback and his coach. That’s it. It starts there and then everything proceeds from that. There’s gotta be a connection and there’s gotta be an element of trust, professional trust, that you have to have.”

Raye-Stout thinks that approach will work this year.

“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," she said. "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.”

At the end of the day, Bears fans won’t care if he’s Wonka, a lawyer, a quarterback coach, a stockbroker or a genius, so long as he’s a winner.

This segment aired on October 5, 2013.


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