By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) We don’t know which teams the Chicago Bears will beat this season, but we do know that throughout it they’ll be running plays to the beat of a different drummer.
Namely, Marc Trestman.
On Sunday, Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh wrote a piece about the first man not named Lovie Smith to lead the Bears since 2003. In his column, Haugh delved into Trestman’s memoir and attempted to shed some light on the unorthodox import from the CFL who remains mostly an unknown for most Bears fans and journalists as we head into the 2013 season.
“Since Trestman took over in January, he has made an impression by being considerate, deliberate and transparent but not rash; attentive but never explosive,” Haugh wrote. “General manager Phil Emery warned me after I characterized Trestman as professorial not to underestimate his coach’s competitiveness. What fun it will be on Sundays finding out exactly what Emery meant.”
While the true fun won’t begin until the Bears’ season opener on Sept. 8 against the Bengals at Soldier Field, it’s already been plenty intriguing observing how Trestman has operated during training camp.
On July 29 in an article entitled “Chicago Bears training camp: Marc Trestman keeps it weird,” SB Nation writer Ricky O’Donnell wrote, “Sunday marked the first time the Bears put on pads in the training camp debut of the team’s new coach, but physicality was far from an emphasis.
“Forget blood, sweat and tears; the only thing that covered the Bourbonnais practice fields were exercise balls. The curse-’em-out approach has been replaced by widespread positive reinforcement. The guy who’s supposed to inspire these men to go to war for the betterment of Chicago’s civic pride thinks and speaks more like a college professor.”
And for the past month all of that has had me thinking about how Trestman, in some ways, reminds me of another offbeat coach who enjoyed a bit of success in the Windy City.
Namely, Phil Jackson.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I hardly expect Trestman to win six championships with the Bears (but, hey, the first one since 1986 sure would be nice). And I don’t expect him to install a triangle offense (although who knows what the purported offensive guru has up his sleeve). Conversely, I’m also not worried about Trestman eventually heading off to Los Angeles (after all, they don’t even have an NFL team there).
But what I am hoping is the cerebral 57-year-old Trestman can translate his quirky qualities to the girdiron as well as the cerebral Jackson translated his to the hardcourt during the 1990s. If he can, we should all be in for a treat.
Surveying the scene, I see a number of similarities between Trestman’s arrival in Chicago and Jackson’s more than 20 years ago. Among them: Trestman is taking over for a man in Lovie Smith who was a good coach, but not quite the right one for the Bears. Jackson, meanwhile, took over for Doug Collins, who too was a good coach, but not quite the right one for the Bulls.
With the Bears, Trestman’s primary job is to get quarterback Jay Cutler to maximize his considerable talents and spread the ball around, trusting multiple receivers. With the Bulls, Jackson’s primary job was to get Michael Jordan to maximize his enormous talents and spread the ball around, trusting his teammates more.
At training camp, Trestman rolled out exercise balls as a way to get his players to begin operating differently. On team buses, Jackson handed out books as a way to get his players thinking differently.
With Trestman, Chicago has the first head coach to jump from the CFL to the NFL since 1982. A generation ago, Jackson entered the NBA coaching ranks from a similarly unconventional path, having coached in the CBA and Puerto Rico’s National Superior Basketball leagues prior to latching onto Collins’ Bulls staff as an assistant in 1987.
In Chicago, history is stacked up against first-year Bears coaches. The last one to finish with a winning record was nearly six decades ago when Paddy Driscoll went 9-2-1 as a rookie coach in 1956.
Since then, the Monsters of the Midway have seen meager debut results from the likes of Jim Dooley (7-7 in 1968), Abe Gibron (4-9-1 in 1972), Jack Pardee (4-10 in 1975, Neill Armstrong (4-10 in 1975), Mike Ditka (3-6 in 1982), Dave Wannstedt (7-9 in 1993), Dick Jauron (6-10 in 1999) and Smith (5-11 in 2004).
Trestman has a more talented roster than most of those men inherited, but how he fares in his first year remains to be seen. However, in his debut season way back in 1989-90, Phil Jackson went 55-27 and took his Bulls team to the conference finals.
If Trestman can have something else in common with Jackson, it sure would be fun if they’re results similar to that.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.