Reporting Dan Bernstein
By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Press conferences are not games, but coaches have to win them – particularly the opener.
Marc Trestman is all but unknown to Bears fans, and tomorrow morning is his first opportunity to become something more than a printed resume or collection of recommendations. What he says Thursday will be remembered for better or worse, and for a long time. You don’t get to do this twice.
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Phil Emery promised to do everything he could to identify the right hire, describing an ideal of intelligence, upbeat demeanor, effective communication skills and football “excellence.” After his exhaustively thorough search process, it’s time to meet the winner, and see what the effort produced.
Here’s what I would be telling Trestman before he steps into the glare of the lights:
- As you begin speaking, consider moving from behind the lectern to beside it. Using furniture as a figurative shield adds an unnecessary layer between you and the audience, and symbolic visibility has value. Movement conveys positive energy. If you watch the smoothest, most successful CEOs at shareholder meetings or product rollouts, you’ll notice none is static or obstructed.
- No pandering. No “Bears Football,” “Bear Weather,” or “get off the bus running.” No grandstanding about beating the Packers. Some proper respect for the history of a founding franchise is fine, but don’t let it cross the line into cheap politicking for the hearts and minds of the dumbest fans. Aim higher.
- You’re going to make your boss look bad if you’re brusque or dismissive, or trying to catch the gaze of a PR assistant to cut off questions to get you out of there, since he guaranteed someone unlike that. Take every last question.
- Transparency is OK right now. There is no sacred playbook yet, and no state secrets to protect. There’s no reason for a coach’s typically defensive posture toward substantive football questions, so just answer them. Articulate your philosophy.
- There will be questions about the “negatives” of your candidacy, so don’t be surprised by them. Be ready to discuss Jerry Rice’s 1997 comments, the opinions that you over-think and over-complicate the game, and why the five year sojourn in Canada. You may have to explain how West-Coast offensive principles are still as viable as ever.
- Don’t get hung up describing the process of your hire. Let Emery do that. It’s boring to hear about job interviews and phone calls, and this is a day to look forward and envision on-field accomplishments.
- Be self-assured, but do not brag. Unfortunate phrases like “Decided schematic advantage” and “All the pieces are in place” still haunt to this day.
- Talk pointedly about winning the Super Bowl. Not “getting to the Super Bowl,” but winning it. This cannot be said enough. Set a championship standard from the top and keep it there.
- Make it clear that you share everyone’s understanding of why this job was open in the first place. The Bears have problems, and you can acknowledge them and address them without glossing anything over. Give the audience reason to be confident that you have seen tape of the same games we have endured, and have a plan to fix what we all know needs fixing.
- Don’t be afraid of Jay Cutler. It’s clear that you’re here primarily to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses, and you don’t have to pretend that’s not the case. Nor must you worry about him not buying in right away if you speak openly about that task. With his contract coming up, Cutler is not in as powerful a position as he once was relative to the franchise, and has plenty of financial motivation to be a good listener. You’re the alpha dog now, replacing a coach who wasn’t that to Cutler, since he ceded offensive authority to underlings that never could connect consistently with the team’s most important talent.
- Smile. Be careful with jokes, however. Some self-deprecation is fine, but don’t diminish your projection of confidence. Keep eye contact with the reporter to whom you respond.
- Short sentences in this situation are better than long ones (though we know lawyers tend toward the latter).
- Wear your most expensive dark suit. You can do the team-color striped tie thing if you absolutely feel you must, but it doesn’t matter. You can never go wrong with blue.
- And in case this was not yet specifically clear, don’t mention Ditka.