The Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles took different paths to find new coaches for the 2013 season. The Bears went to the CFL to hire Marc Trestman away from the Montreal Alouettes where he had won the Grey Cup twice in the last five years. This will be Trestman’s first stint as a head coach in the NFL but he has been an assistant coach in the NFL many times in the past including offensive coordinator jobs with the Browns, Niners, Cardinals and Raiders.
His reputation is that he works with, develops and gets the best out of quarterbacks. Consider that under Trestman’s tutelage, Rich Gannon was the NFL MVP in 2002 and that Raiders’ team made it to the Super Bowl. The Bears have a QB with above average skills; Trestman is there to increase the return the Bears get from their investment in that position. It would appear that the Bears’ braintrust has decided to try to create an environment whereby the offensive side of the ball receives a bit more focus than it has in the past.
Trestman and Cutler have a previous relationship. In addition to coaching football teams, Trestman has acted as a consultant/tutor/mentor for some college QBs as they are coming out of college and entering the NFL Draft. Cutler used Trestman as his tutor/mentor when Cutler made the jump from Vandy to the NFL. Presumably, that previous relationship will allow Trestman and his offensive assistant coaches some time to focus on the other problems the Bears have on offense without Cutler feeling as if he is being ignored.
The Bears’ offensive line is a mess. The Bears have one really good WR who is usually double covered and sometimes triple covered because none of the other WRs is a threat in the mind of the defensive coordinator on the other sideline. The Bears have players listed as tight ends but none of them is a serious threat to catch the ball 20 yards downfield on a designed play.
To be sure, Marc Trestman has his work cut out for him; if it were going to be easy, the Bears could have stayed with Lovie Smith for another couple of years. However, Trestman brings 20 years of NFL experience as an assistant coach and 5 years of CFL experience as a head coach to the job. The Bears have to hope that Trestman’s CFL experience will allow him to follow the career arc of Bud Grant and/or Marv Levy, two prior CFL coaches who came to the NFL and then made it to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
[Aside: I would lose my street cred as a curmudgeon if I did not point out here that Hugh Campbell also came from the CFL to the NFL and amassed an 8-22 record as coach of the Houston Oilers in the 80s. The Bears are surely not hoping to emulate that experience.]
Trestman was once an assistant under Bud Grant with the Vikings. Here is what Grant told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press about making the transition from the CFL to the NFL:
“Football is football. The secret is to get the best players. Most coaches can win with the best players. It’s up to the team to get the best players.”
In Philly, the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as their new coach picking a guy who has never had a job in the NFL at any level. In fact, until 2007 when he took the job as the offensive coordinator at Oregon, Kelly’s previous jobs had been at Columbia, Johns Hopkins and New Hampshire. Those are three fine institutions of higher learning but they are most definitely not “football schools”. Kelly has been the head coach at Oregon for the last four years; that is the entirety of his head coaching experience.
Kelly’s record at Oregon is a gaudy 46-7 and the Ducks have been serious contenders for the BCS Championship game during his tenure there. Kelly’s “calling card” is his high-octane up-tempo offensive system. Last year, Oregon was 12-1 for the season; only twice did they score fewer than 42 points. Some folks say that his offense is merely a gimmick that will not work at the NFL level. That may indeed prove to be the case; but to be fair, those same doubts were raised when he brought his “gimmick offense” from Division 1-AA New Hampshire to Oregon and the PAC-12. Now after 6 total seasons at Oregon, there is little doubt that the “gimmick offense” worked just fine at the top level of college football.
I think there are two reasons for Eagles’ fans to be slightly apprehensive here. I am not intimating that his system will not work in the NFL, but there are two things that I will want to observe before I pronounce this as a “great hire” by the Eagles:
1. Kelly’s teams at Oregon always enjoyed a significant advantage in terms of team speed. That was particularly evident in Oregon’s wins over USC and Cal last year. The Eagles are not likely to have such a significant advantage in team speed over most of the other teams in the NFL.
2. In college football, coaches can get players to do things to a much greater degree than can NFL coaches. Will Kelly be able to get NFL veterans who have big time contracts and fat paychecks dropping into their bank accounts to practice and execute his up-tempo system? It seems to work for the Pats, the Packers and the Broncos – but check out who the QBs are on those teams.
One more thing Eagles’ fans should look for… Kelly will need to find a good defensive coordinator because in watching Oregon play, it was clear that the defense was not the unit that would “carry the team”. In the NFL, a balanced team is necessary for success.
It is very much in vogue at the moment for NFL teams to reach down to the college level for coaching hires. The recent success of Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh probably has a lot to do with that because the NFL is indeed a copycat league. The question here is whether Carroll and Harbaugh represent a new trend in coaching and innovation or if they are merely anomalies. Consider these successful collegiate coaches who came to the NFL and who had far less success there:
Finally, here is a comment from Ron Judd in the Seattle Times in the wake of the state of Washington voting to legalize the use of marijuana:
“High Times: A California company has offered to help the state of Washington set up vending machines to dispense pot. Yeah; like we’re going to stand by and watch them put all our junior-high neighbor kids out of work.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………