Naylor: Leaps of faith are big part of Trestman story

Dave Naylor
1/24/2013 6:12:13 PM
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Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery took a leap of faith last week and for that, he deserves some credit.
Not just for hiring Marc Trestman as the Bears new head coach, but because he chose to ignore the inevitable skepticism about Trestman's Canadian Football League background.
Emery made it clear that Trestman was the candidate who most closely met the criteria he had set out: a highly-organized person who had demonstrated excellence and leadership.
It also didn't hurt that Trestman's specialty is offence in a league that is trending that way. Or that Trestman has a history of helping talented quarterbacks reach their potential and that Bears' QB Jay Cutler happens to be a prime candidate for that sort of guidance.

And while Emery could have disregarded Trestman's success in Montreal because it occurred in the CFL, he instead took the opposite view. He determined Trestman's record as a head coach was all the more impressive because it had come in a game he didn't know, with a team he didn't know, in a city he didn't know before taking over in Montreal.

But Emery's gamble isn't at all different from the one that Alouettes GM Jim Popp took five years earlier, one that raised more than a few eyebrows at the time.

It's easy to forget how skeptically Trestman's hiring by the Als was viewed, since so often head coaches hired to work in the CFL without any previous experience in the Canadian game are doomed to fail.

Just ask Jack Pardee, Ron Meyer, Forrest Gregg, Kay Stevenson – all former NFL head coaches who coached American-based CFL teams during the league's short-lived expansion days. Those teams were all allowed to field all-American rosters and they all failed.

Yet, when Trestman took Montral to the Grey Cup in each of his first three seasons, winning twice, the cynics were quieted.

That success is a credit to his expertise, humility and ability to adapt.

But none of it would have been possible without Popp taking a leap of faith as large as the one Emery just did. Just as Emery has put his neck on the line by hiring a coach from outside the NFL, Popp put his head on the block by importing a coach whose only brush with the CFL had been as a guest coach during one of Montreal's training camps.
But like Emery, Popp was willing to stake his credibility on Trestman's ability, a decision that paid off handsomely for him and for the Alouettes.

And, as it turns out, for Trestman.
Five years ago, Marc Trestman wasn't on anybody's NFL head coaching radar. He'd just been dismissed as part of the coaching staff at North Carolina State, and hadn't worked in the NFL since he was assistant head coach of a 4-12 Miami Dolphins team in 2004 that was among the league's least productive teams on offence.

When Trestman took over the Als in 2008, they were coming off an 8-10 season. But 2007 was Montreal's first sub-.500 season since rejoining the CFL in 1996. And the 8-10 record was due in part to an influx of younger players and that Anthony Calvillo missed the final third of the season.

So it's not as if the Alouettes were on their knees when Trestman came along. Or that Calvillo's success under him was markedly better than he'd enjoyed during his years under Don Matthews. (Calvillo's three best seasons in terms of passing yardage all took place under Matthews.)
The Als needed Trestman and Trestman needed them.
While it's no doubt true that, as Trestman said at his news conference last week, he took a "leap of faith" in going to Montreal, Popp and the Alouettes took one that was just as big.

It was an arrangement that worked out for everyone. The Als got to three Grey Cups, Calvillo remained at the top of his game through the late 30's and Trestman managed to get the experience necessary as a head coach that allowed him to land his dream job.

Leaps of faith are a big part of the Marc Trestman story.

Here's hoping the one Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears have taken works out just as well.

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