Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Emery and Bears Turn to the Offensive-Minded Trestman

Phil Emery finally has his man. After weeks of searching, canvassing seemingly every corner of the football universe, and interviewing a wide range of candidates far and wide, the Bears GM has hired Montreal Alouette's (them of the Canadian Football League) head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman brings a highly respected offensive pedigree, having served in various capacities aroudn the NFL for years. When Emery began this search, he explained in his long, brilliant press conference that his new coach had to be someone who he worked well with, but more importantly, could take the Chicago Bears' stagnant offense and make it one that can succeed at the upper levels of the NFL. From all accounts, he nails this with Trestman, a man who has respect from all corners of the NFL universe and has a resume that suggests he can be the one to turn around the Bears offensive woes. But all of that notwithstanding, this is still an out of the box hire for the Bears, one that still leaves us with some questions and will probably ruffle some Bears fans' feathers. No matter what, though, the uncharacteristic hire from the Bears suggests that George McCaskey and Phil Emery are leading this franchise into a new era.

There's no question the Bears needed some fresh input on the offensive end. Looking at Trestman's background, he seems to fit that bill and then some. Let's start first with his offensive pedigree. He first started to make a name for himself with the 49ers in 1995, where he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for two years. In 1995, the 49ers led the NFL in passing yards (surely aided by Hall of Famer Steve Young, who gave Trestman an enthusiastic endorsement mere days ago) and scoring. After leaving in 1996, he bounced to Detroit and Arizona before landing in Oakland in 2001. As their offensive coordinator in 2002, the Raiders went to the Super Bowl, led the NFL in passing and total offense, and Rich Gannon (yet another QB who has given Trestman a ringing endorsement) won the MVP. After that, he went to Miami, was out of coaching for a year, then took a job as head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in 2008, winning two Grey Cups in 5 years in addition to a coach of the year in 2009.

On top of all this, he has a law degree and commands respect from nearly everyone you ask. He's known, as Rich Gannon said, as a brilliant playcaller. He would seem to be assuming that role with the Bears, as he is bringing on Aaron Kromer (who has been involved with the Saints offense for the past few years) to be his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. If that's the case, it should faciliate a new-look offense that with some tweaks on the line, should be a formidable unit. I mean, look at that background. Everywhere Trestman has gone, his offenses have not only just succeed, but dominated. His quarterbacks have great seasons, his offenses produce and pace the NFL in offense, and most importantly, it helps leads to wins. With the Bears, he'll have a QB with loads of talent to work with, much like he has in the past. And obviously, when he's had that in the past, he's done great.

Trestman is widely respected as an offensive guru
That's if, of course, he can work well with Jay Cutler. That's the biggest key to success moving forward for the Bears. Emery has acknowledged it, and nearly every player on that offense will tell you (not to mention the play on the field) that as Jay goes, so does the offense. So really, Trestman will be able to prove his skills by meshing well with the enigmatic Cutler, who has developed a reputation across the league as a guy who can be tough to work with.

I'd be worried about this more if Jay hadn't worked with Trestman before, prior to when Cutler was drafted. And if Trestman is as widely respected as everyone says he is, he should have no problem winning over Cutler based upon his reputation alone. But really, it isn't something that will be automatic. Trestman needs to establish that he can develop Jay into the elite quarterback that everyone has said he should be with his skillset. If the Bears spend the offseason retooling an offensive line that was already playing much better together at the end of the year, there really is no excuses heading into next year.

This is a 10-6 team with scores of veteran leaders. They should be able to act professionally and work just as hard for Trestman. But that doesn't mean he's not going to need to earn their respect. This team loved Lovie Smith, and you'd be hard pressed to find a guy in that locker room who wouldn't run through a brick wall for him. So of course, the natural thing to deal with is resentment of the new guy in town who on paper, doesn't seem to have quite the same head coaching resume as Lovie. I think Trestman would do well to ask Rod Marinelli, who himself is very loyal to Lovie, to stay on as defensive coordinator. Not only would it do wonders to bridge any potential gaps in the locker room, but it would enable the Bears to much more easily transition to the Trestman Era while maintaining the same intensity and production level on defense. 

You have to wonder, though, what impact this will have on personnel. With Emery and Trestman comprising the brain trust at Halas Hall, could the Bears be shifting the emphasis of the organization to the offense? It could mean a change of preference - and therefore, money - to the offensive side of the ball. That might see an expensive player like Brian Urlacher walk, or free agent Henry Melton turn down an offer from the Bears. Who knows? That's one of the biggest question mark here, just what impact his hire will have on everything. Emery has talked about how he wants his new coach standing shoulder to shoulder with him at the upcoming college all star games, so surely his input on personnel will be valued. 

That shouldn't mean forsaking the identity that has been forged by this organization for decades, but it most certainly will be more difficult to maintain the money spent on the defense if the offense becomes the favorite side of the ball. For me, a franchise like the 49ers are the model; they have an offensive coach, to be sure, but they have such outstanding balance on both sides of the ball. It comes down to good coaching, great scouting, and a shrewd financial aspect into things. 

Emery is all in on this hire
Make no mistake about it - this is a new era of Bears football. Emery promised he would go out and find a guy that could turn around the decades-long offensive ineptitude in Chicago. He went out and got a guy that by all accounts knows football well, but we have very little to go off on of his abilities to lead NFL players. Being an offensive coordinator, where you can get by on your football knowledge alone, doesn't just cut it. Trestman will have to know how to manage the ins and outs of the duties of an NFL coach. He's going to need to find a way to gain and maintain respect from veteran leaders who have put their time in in the league. He'll have to find a way to keep the defense performing at its current level. He'll have to do all of these things while at the same time fulfilling the promise made by Emery in turning the Bears offense into an elite unit.

We don't know for sure if Trestman is the right man for the job. There were other, flashier, names out there, and Emery surely did his diligence by interviewing over a dozen candidates. Trestman supposedly wowed Bears' brass in both of his interviews, including a laborious second interview earlier this week that essentially sealed the decision by Emery to hire him. But there is a difference between interviewing extremely well and translating it to wins on the field. We live in a win-now, what have you done for me lately society, and for a Bears franchise coming off a 10 win season and the firing of a beloved coach (by the players, at least), the pressure would seem to already by on Trestman to get the job done well. If he can come out, establish a rapport with Cutler, get the offense on track, and gain respect from his defense (not to mention good performances on the field), he'll be considered a success.

Emery has done mostly well for the Bears in his year as GM. He's brought in Brandon Marshall, signed a legitimate backup QB, signed a legitimate backup running back, given our franchise running back an extension, and seemed to facilitate, perhaps in conjunction with George McCaskey, a new direction for Bears football. Let's hope, for our sake as Bears fans, that he got this one right as well. Can you imagine an exciting, productive Bears offense with the same defense we've had for years? That Bears team would be hard to stop. It would fulfill the vast potential that Jay Cutler has and hopefully put the Bears on the verge of consistent, annual success. As Emery has said so often, nothing else is acceptable. And really, for all the pressure that Emery faced in making this hire, maybe an out of the box hire is what this organization needed. If Trestman can step in and be a respected head coach and leader, and not just a highly respected offensive mind, no one will ever remember Emery hiring a CFL coach. For my money, I'm excited and confident that Trestman, with all his respect and reputation, will be bringing a lot of success to the Bears this fall.