(MCT) — We can wonder if Marc Trestman can be a dynamic leader of one of this league’s founding franchises in the country’s second-largest NFL market.
We can question if he will get through to Jay Cutler.
We can ask if doing whatever he did to make Canadian magic will be good enough here.
But no one can question if he can be one of the premier offensive minds in the game.
See, in another time, Trestman was considered the Mike McCoy or Kyle Shanahan of his day. The next big thing, the hot-shot head coach in waiting.
I got to know him a little in those days, back when he was drawing up plays for Jerry Rice with the 49ers, making Scott Mitchell sing for the Lions, molding young Jake Plummer for the Cardinals and pushing Rich Gannon to new heights with the Raiders.
One beautiful spring morning in Tempe, Ariz., nearly 14 years ago, he and I sat and talked offense.
To get Plummer to the next level, Trestman told me he was cutting the number of plays the Cardinals were running by about one-third while making their offense appear more multidimensional with additional formations, personnel groups and “deceptives.”
He was borrowing from Mike Martz, Kurt Warner and the Rams, who were fresh off a Super Bowl victory. When Trestman watched tape of the Rams, he expected volume to have him in awe. Instead, he admired how Martz had taken a few concepts, highlighted what his players did best and dominated.
While Trestman was watching Martz, others were watching him.
In 1997 Jon Gruden was the offensive coordinator of the Eagles, the next big thing. He shared an office in decrepit, cramped Veterans Stadium with his rookie quarterbacks coach, Sean Payton.
There, Gruden and Payton would study tape of teams coached by men they could learn from, like Mike Holmgren and Trestman.
“There were four or five teams we thought really knew what they were doing on offense, and we watched them closely,” Payton said. “And Jon would touch base with maybe five coaches regularly to exchange ideas. Marc was one of those guys.”
When Gruden became the Raiders’ coach, he hired Trestman to coach quarterbacks. And to this day Gruden and Trestman will talk ball, learning what they can from each other.
“He always has been on the cutting edge of offensive football,” Gruden said. “He has an excellent, creative mind. He’s able to adjust his offense to his cast of characters as well as most guys in football. If you have a pistol option quarterback, you’re going to see pistol option plays from him, something that never has been seen before.
“Whether it’s Bernie Kosar or Steve Young, or CFL quarterbacks, or Jay Cutler, he can find out what he can do the best, what his teammates can do the best and then accentuate those things.”
Trestman is from the West Coast school of offense. But that doesn’t mean the Bears are going to look like something Bill Walsh drew up.
After Gruden was traded to the Bucs, Bill Callahan took over the Raiders and promoted Trestman to offensive coordinator. Like a plant that was repotted and fertilized, the Raiders offense started growing in all directions.
They led the league in yards and were second in scoring. Gannon passed for more yards than any quarterback in the NFL and was named the NFL’s most valuable player.
“He opened up the offense that year and gave me more flexibility at the line of scrimmage,” Gannon said. “He really trusted. We would go no backs, five receivers in a route. We would call two, three plays in the huddle and did a lot at the line. It took the offense to another level.”
In 2007 offensive coordinator Trestman and the other coaches at North Carolina State were fired. He had time left on his contract but didn’t have a job. Payton invited him to Metairie, La., to be a “voluntary” assistant for the Saints.
Trestman attended meetings, watched tape, went to practices and then wrote observations for Payton. Maybe three pages a day.
“It was a great help to have another set of eyes from someone who had been in this system long before I ever cut my teeth in it,” Payton said.
Every year at the scouting combine, Payton and Trestman will grab a coffee and watch the quarterbacks work out from a remote section of Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis. They will evaluate the players and compare notes.
So Payton has a pretty good handle on Trestman. That’s why he has called Bears general manager Phil Emery repeatedly in recent days.
“I’ve recommended I think three people in seven years, and he was one of them,” Payton said.
For whatever reasons, Trestman’s past chance to become an NFL head coach came and went. So he took a northerly detour.
In Montreal, the creative young coach with so much promise became a seasoned 57-year-old who had realized his dreams by taking one calculated risk after another.
You could see the special in Trestman long ago.
He and I talked a lot about quarterback play that day in Tempe.
“A quarterback can’t be great on his God-given skills alone,” he said. “No quarterback ever has done it.”
The grease board awaits.