EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Marc Trestman had given up football, his nomad coaching career decidedly over after bouncing from job to job before the San Francisco 49ers came calling in 1995.
Trestman, the St. Louis Park, Minn. native and former University of Minnesota quarterback, had spent two separate occasions as a position coach with Vikings and been an offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. But the heady coach decided he needed to focus on his family and was surprised when San Francisco wanted to bring him in as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“I never thought about getting back into football,” Trestman said Monday, looking back at one of many pivotal moments in his coaching career. “I made my mind up that I was going to change the way I was going to live my life and raise my kids, and I was really geared towards trying to build a business and be a better husband and a better father. It just kind of came to me. I didn’t try and go get it; just a sequence of events took place and all of a sudden I was in San Francisco and I really couldn’t answer how it happened because I didn’t try to make it happen. But I’m certainly grateful that it did.”
Trestman’s return to the NFL put him on a long, winding path which eventually landed him his first NFL head coaching job with the Chicago Bears this year. The noted quarterback guru and offensive mastermind has gone through the coaching ranks in the NFL, college and the Canadian Football League on his way to Chicago.
The Bears, moving on from longtime coach Lovie Smith, hired Trestman away from the Montreal Alouttes in the CFL, where he won two Grey Cup championships. Trestman’s NFL stops have included Minnesota twice, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, Arizona, Oakland and Miami. His first time with the Vikings, Trestman worked with Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant.
“He saw something in me that at that age I certainly didn’t see in myself and I just trusted him,” Trestman said of Grant. “And learned so much by working with him and for him.”
Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler got the chance to meet Trestman during his interview process with the Bears. Cutler was excited for the prospect of getting to work with an offensive coach and hear his philosophies. Cutler was impressed with Trestman’s on-field ideals as well as his off-the-field philosophy.
“Really smart,” Cutler said of his first impressions. “Not only about football, but about life. He wanted to help the guys as much as possible, not only on the field, but off.”
The Bears made the move from the defensive-minded Smith to the offensive innovator in Trestman. They had Cutler, a 100-catch receiver in Brandon Marshall, a versatile running back in Matt Forte, second-round receiver Alshon Jeffery entering his second season, and signed tight end Martellus Bennett.
Trestman had playmakers for his offense. But after his long journey to Chicago, he wasn’t interested in making all the players fit in his offense.
“It’s not my offense,” Trestman said. “It’s an offense, it’s their offense. We’ve worked very hard collectively as coaches, and the players have throughout the offseason. We’ve got a long way to go. We don’t have any sense that we’ve arrived or we’re at our best by any means. It’s going to take a lot more work and a lot more games and a lot more time for us to find out exactly what we are, and what we could become.”
Chicago came from behind to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-21 last week. Cutler was 21 of 33 for 242 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Marshall had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Forte had 91 total yards and Bennett caught his first touchdown as a member of the Bears.
Trestman — who is also working with rookies at right guard and right tackle in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, respectively — had his coaches diagnose the strengths of Chicago’s players and design an offense that would work for everyone.
“We really kind of worked together to do it,” Trestman said. “It’s been no one day or one series of events. We spent a lot of time in the offseason studying Jay and where he was successful and when he was successful and why, and tried to put it together that way incorporating the skill sets of the guys that we have. And coaches, Aaron Kromer, our coordinator and the coaches on the offensive staff really worked hard in trying to put packages together that we could benefit our players and allow them to succeed and we’re still learning. We’ve got a lot of growing to do before this is all done.”
Cutler, who’s been an enigma since his days in Denver, has always had the talent to make coaches dream of the possibilities. Cutler, even with Marshall, Forte, Jeffery and Bennett, is the catalyst. Since he’s been in Chicago, Cutler has struggled behind an offensive line that has failed to protect him.
The emphasis now is protecting Cutler and getting rid of the ball quickly, just like Detroit’s Matthew Stafford did against the Vikings last week.
“It’s more West Coast driven, more tighter concepts and we’re trying to get rid of the ball rather quickly,” Cutler said. “We don’t want a lot of long drops, long routes down the field. We want to get rid of it pretty quickly and let those guys on the outside do their work.”
After being out of the league, and football as a whole, Trestman is happy to be doing his work in the NFL again.