You’ve got to have a soft spot in your heart for anyone in pro football who was exiled to Canada and found a way to reinvent themselves.
Marv Levy and Doug Flutie are two obvious examples close to the affections of Bills fans.
Now there’s another one in Chicago head coach Marc Trestman, a guy who’s worth rooting for, even though he has no tie to Buffalo.
Trestman is an offensive guru who for much of his career was a head-in-the-clouds, X’s-and-O’s tactician with poor people skills. He was the smartest guy in the room but couldn’t command the room; he couldn’t command the closet.
He started out as quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami, where he tutored Bernie Kosar in the Hurricanes’ national championship season of 1983. Since then he has made 13 stops in 30 years, and he never stayed anywhere more than three seasons until he landed in the Canadian Football League in 2008.
He coordinated a great San Francisco offense quarterbacked by Steve Young in 1995 and ‘96. He orchestrated a 3,500-yard passing season out of Scott Mitchell in Detroit in 1997. He coordinated the high flying Oakland Raiders offense that got to the Super Bowl in 2002.
But his career bottomed out after a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2004 (the offense ranked 29th) and a two-year stint in 2005 and ‘06 at North Carolina State. He was fired from N.C. State with the rest of head coach Chuck Amato’s staff.
Trestman started to understand his shortcomings as a coach while in Raleigh, N.C.
“As a college coach I became a teacher, a father, a confidant, a mentor; not just a guy trying to make first downs,” Trestman said in a book he wrote in 2010, “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork.”
“It was an entirely different mindset. I began to realize that for some, I was the first male figure in their lives away from home. They became my children, in a sense, and I began to care deeply about each and every one of them in a way that went beyond the game.”
Trestman took the N.C. State firing hard. He was 50 years old. He sat out of coaching for a year and re-evaluated his life. He realized he needed to engage people more directly and more often; become a leader.
“I was so focused on my work that I didn’t recognize it’s more important to develop ongoing relationships with people, to spend time with them, to get to know them, to let them know that you care,” Trestman told Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune this spring.
Trestman took his newfound energy — his transformation, as he calls it — to Canada to coach the Montreal Alouettes. In his first year he turned a losing team into the CFL runners-up. The next two years, Montreal won the Grey Cup on the strength of a dynamic offense, In 2008, the Als averaged a team-record 33.9 points a game and set a CFL record by scoring 30 or more points in 13 straight games. Trestman went 59-31 in five seasons.
Credit Bears General Manager Phil Emery with making a smart, outside-the-box hire in selecting Trestman to succeed Lovie Smith. The cerebral Trestman has a public persona that’s almost the opposite of Bears legend Mike Ditka, the quintessential emotional, tough guy.
Trestman has the Bears off to a 3-1 start. Bears big-armed quarterback Jay Cutler looks like he is playing with greater efficiency. His completion percentage is up from 58 percent the last two years to 64.2 percent.
Trestman brings two great strengths to the job. He has a special offensive mind. And he has found a way to connect with people and lead them.
“When you give and don’t ask anything in return, and you do it because it’s the right thing to do, it comes back to you,” he told Pompeii. “It eventually comes back. That was the lesson I learned.”
There’s a temptation to consider him a modern-day Levy, who also resurrected his career with a great stint with the Alouettes. Levy, however, always was a great communicator and leader. He wasn’t nearly the tactician Trestman is. Levy was great at crisis management. When times were tough, Levy had the ability to get everyone in the organization focused on the particular task at hand and pointed in one direction.
The Bears face a big test at home against New Orleans today. Here’s hoping he leads the Bears through the inevitable valleys of the season and into the playoffs.
Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle: Bennett is a diamond in the rough the Seahawks found, let get away, then brought back again. He was undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2009 because he had an inconsistent college career and a subpar senior season, with only 2.5 sacks. He was viewed as a bit of a tweener. He was a bit more effective as an inside rusher but played at an end’s weight. Seattle signed him, then cut him. He spent the next three seasons in Tampa and emerged last season with nine sacks. Seattle got him on a one-year contract this spring in free agency for a steal, $5 million.
Why couldn’t he get a longer deal? He has a shoulder issue that’s eventually going to require surgery. But he’s playing great right now, with 2.5 sacks, on Seattle’s dominant defense. Because teams play so much nickel defense these days, a tweener like Bennett is more useful than ever. He’s not exactly an ideal end or tackle, but he’s a quality defensive lineman who can play either spot in the right situation — passing situations. Indianapolis needs to watch out for him in today’s game.
• With one touchdown pass and no interceptions, Denver’s Peyton Manning will surpass Milt Plum for the most consecutive touchdown passes without an interception to start a season in NFL history. Plum had 16 TDs without an INT to open the 1960 season for Cleveland. Don Meredith started with 14 and no INTs for Dallas in 1966. Randall Cunningham had 14 with no INTs for the Vikings in 1998.
• With a win today at Cincinnati, New England’s Bill Belichick will surpass Hall of Famer Chuck Noll (209) for the fifth-most victories all-time among head coaches. No. 4 on the list is Curly Lambeau, at 229. Belichick’s win percentage is .657. Noll’s is .572.
• The Pats’ Tom Brady has 341 career TD passes. With two more he passes Fran Tarkenton (342) for the fourth most ever. It’s a long way to No. 3 — Dan Marino — at 420.
• Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford will play in his 50th career game today at Green Bay. Stafford has 14,069 career passing yards, the most ever through a player’s first 50 games. Kurt Warner is next at 13,864.
• Which states produce the most NFL players? Here’s the top 10: California 225, Florida 186, Texas 184, Georgia 95, Ohio 74, New Jersey 63, Louisiana 62, Pennsylvania 58, South Carolina 54, Virginia 50.