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The Chicago Bears tabbed Marc Trestman out of the CFL to be the franchise's next coach. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
The Chicago Bears decision to call up Marc Trestman from the CFL to the big leagues captured the attention of the newscycle for what seemed like 10 minutes. Just as announcements on Trestman's staff were starting to come out early Wednesday afternoon, the Bears were one-upped in a big way when, out of nowhere, it was reported that Chip Kelly was suddenly set to leave Oregon to take the Eagles' top job. Kelly had the national media wrapped around his finger until Deadspin's Manti Te'o bombshell smashed everything to pieces. Before the night was over, Luol Deng had hit a game-winning shot for the Bulls and there was a deadly shooting at a marquee high school basketball game in Chicago between Jabari Parker's Simeon squad and Morgan Park.
By the time the day mercifully ended, it felt like Trestman had been hired three weeks ago. A nation's attention was diverted and mangled, lost like Te'o in Lennay Kekua's imaginary "warm smile and soulful eyes". I suspect the Bears don't have a problem with any of this.
So much of Trestman's story is bizarre, even if the definition of that word appears to be changing hourly. He hasn't coached in the NFL in any capacity for eight seasons. He outlasted 13 other candidates in what was the most publicly thorough and extensive head coaching search in recent memory. He's the first person to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL since the immortal Frank Kush left the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1982. The news was broken four days earlier by the Extenze guy. Strange times we live in, indeed.
There's a lot we don't know about Trestman. We don't know why it took so long for someone to finally give the 57-year old a shot at a head coaching gig in the NFL. We don't know how the players will treat someone who's been out of the NFL fraternity for so long. We don't know how he'll handle a field that's 35 yards more narrow in a league with 32 teams, not eight.
But it's easy to see why Emery loves this guy. Just listen to Jim Popp, GM of the Montreal Alouettes team Trestman's coached to two
Gray Grey Cups, speak about him:
He’s very articulate and he’s very organized – he’s one of the most organized people I’ve been around. He is well spoken. He is very good at speaking to the team. These are things that came out in the interviews when I was trying to figure out what the next best thing for our club was. He’s got that organizational skill set and I don’t doubt one bit that with his experience in the NFL he would be able to put together a great coaching staff together. He’s proven himself as a head coach at a professional level.
Sounds a lot like the man who hired him, no? This was only cemented at Trestman's introductory press conference at Halas Hall, an hour long session full of what Trestman routinely described as "great questions" that recieved convincing enough answers. He's going to call the plays for the Bears. He's going to give Jay Cutler "the keys to the car". He's going to focus on small details and make sure every member of the team is prepared to play.
It's hard not to connect the dots all the way to Cutler. This amounts to Emery's all-in move for a quarterback who turns 30 in April. Emery is well-aware with the franchise's longstanding quarterback deficiencies and knows Cutler hasn't yet done all that much to change them, even if he has all the talent in the world.
If Trestman can't get the most out of the Cutler, the thought is, no one can. If Emery's big hire fails, the next Bears coach will have a different quarterback.
It's hard not to appreciate the move to give Cutler the best chance to succeed. Here's what Jon Gruden had to had to say about the time he spent with Trestman:
"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.
The Bears have Jay Cutler, not Colin Kaepernick or RGIII, so opposing defenses probably won't have to worry about defending the pistol option just yet. After seven concussions, Cutler's brain wouldn't stand for it. But the anecdote strikes me as important, no matter how outlandish that scheme in question may seem.
The NFL is changing, and 'cutting edge' is what the Bears needed. That's why they fired Lovie Smith. Phil Emery isn't looking for a coach to finish with more wins than losses, Smith could do that just fine. Emery wants his Tom Thibodeau -- the next great coach who can mastermind a team's ascent to the top of the NFL mountain. Who knows if Trestman will be able to do that, but of all 14 candidates Emery brought in (he said there was a secret one at the presser), the CFL coach seemingly has the highest upside.
There's a lot to like about Trestman's NFL pass. If Charlie Gardner could catch 91 balls out of Trestman's backfield for the 2002 Raiders, imagine the damage Matt Forte can do. If Trestman can turn Scott Mitchell and Rich Gannon into prolific quarterbacks, he should be able to mold Cutler. Perhaps the most impressive stat of all: the season before Trestman came to the Alouettes, the team allowed 68 sacks. In his first season, they allowed just 22. Knowing what we do about the Bears offensive line, Trestman would be considered a miracle worker if he could precipitate such a big turnaround.
There's still work to be on the roster, of course, and that's in Emery's hands now. The offensive line needs better players, not just internal improvement. If Kellen Davis has played his last game in a Bears uniform, Chicago will rejoice. Even in the midst of Carlos Boozer's redemption tour, there's no reason to give Davis another chance.
And that is where the Bears stand. Of all the head coaching openings in the NFL this offseason, Trestman landed the most attractive. This is a good team with an aging yet effective defense. Every team the Bears lost to in the 10-6 campaign they just completed made the playoffs. Now for the next step: beating the good teams and eventually the great ones. Chicago still starves for a Super Bowl, and the onus now falls on Trestman and Emery to deliver one. If it works out, the tangled narrative that led us here will be worth its convoluted path.