Interview by Noah Isackson
Photography: (Trestman) Ryan Lowry; (Plummer) Tim Sharp/AP; (Gannon) Rick Hossman/AP; (Calvillo) Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/AP; (Cutler) Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune
You were coaching the Montreal Alouettes when the Bears hired you as the new head coach. What do you say to those who wanted the Bears to hire someone from the NFL?
I think the [Canadian Football League] was part of this résumé that I put together. I coached 17 years in the NFL [for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, and Oakland Raiders]. I got to this position by taking a side road.
Why did you take a side road?
It was an improbable opportunity to be a head coach when I hadn’t been able to in the NFL.
What are some things fans will immediately notice about a Marc Trestman team?
I don’t know if it will be anything that people can see. The model here is to continue to grow as people. I feel like we’re in the business of serving others and empowering others on a number of different levels—not just football—and then combining that with the science of football.
But fans are expecting to see a noticeably different team, especially on offense.
We haven’t reinvented football. We have to be disciplined, fundamentally sound, efficient at the quarterback position. Those are universal concepts.
Given your record of improving quarterback performance [see “The Trestman Effect,” below], people will expect Jay Cutler's numbers to rise. What do you say?
When you come in with an offensive perspective as a head coach, people expect there to be improvement on the offensive side. We expect that will be the case but not because there’s a new coach. [Bears General Manager] Phil Emery and our personnel staff have done a terrific job of adding to the blend of our players. We’ve added linemen, tight ends, some strength in a younger receiving corps. All of those things go into it, too.
Cutler has clashed on camera with his offensive coordinators. How will you avoid that in the future?
Whether it’s the quarterback or anyone else, he’s not going to meet an enemy on the sideline. It’s an emotional game and those things happen. But that doesn’t mean the player is not dedicated to winning. He’s just, for a moment, lost his mind, and that’s how I refer to it. I’ll wait till he gathers his composure and then move on.
Which player will lead the team now that Brian Urlacher has retired?
It will probably take multiple guys to fill in the gap and be the leader that Brian was, and I think that we’ve already seen guys who are willing to step up. If I name one I’ll forget three, [but there are] a number of veteran guys.
Are there any new rules you’re putting in place?
I don’t think players will take ownership of rules. I’d prefer set standards for reasonable and common-sense behaviors.
What’s the difference between a rule and a behavior?
It shouldn’t be a rule to push in your chair and wipe the table after you eat, it should be a standard of behavior. It shouldn’t be a rule to take the towels and throw them in the basket after you take a shower, it’s a behavior that respects the environment.
Why this focus on behavior?
Every great player that I’ve ever been around wants a disciplined environment to be able to self-actualize as a person, to become better at doing things. Like communicating, being respectful, being a better husband, that go along with being part of the team.
That doesn’t sound like typical football coach talk.
What I realized [in Montreal] is you will never be fulfilled unless you are serving others; unless your heart is in a place where . . . you want more for that person than they want for themselves.
How do you make that work in the me-first world of pro sports?
On a daily basis, my goals are to get players to want to lead. You can give them the science of the game, but if you’re not growing leaders, you’re not building the locker room the way you want. You don’t have to reach everybody. As long as some guys get it, it’s got a chance to transcend the team.
You were once part of a joke on NBC’s 30 Rock, when one character accused another of rearranging their shared dressing room, saying: “What happened to my poster of the Montreal Alouettes? It’s signed by Marc Trestman!” Did you see the show?
That night, my daughter, my wife, and I were watching Criminal Minds, but [it was a rerun]. We started clicking around and I said, ‘Let’s watch 30 Rock.’ All of a sudden, they started talking about this poster.
That must have felt like The Twilight Zone.
Total Twilight Zone. It was so bizarre.
* * *
The Trestman Effect
Is it fair to expect a new Jay Cutler in 2013? Here’s how Trestman helped improve the passer rating—an official measurement of completion percentage, passing yardage, touchdowns, and interceptions—of the last three quarterbacks he coached, in his first season with them. (A perfect passer rating is 158.3.)
Passer rating pre-Trestman: 73.1
Passer rating with Trestman: 75.0
Passer rating pre-Trestman: 92.4
Passer rating with Trestman: 95.5
Passer rating pre-Trestman: 95.8
Passer rating with Trestman: 107.2
Passer rating pre-Trestman: 81.3
Passer rating with Trestman: ?