By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) Marc Trestman was out of a job.
It was November 2006 and he had just lost his gig as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State after Chuck Amato was fired following a 3-9 campaign.
That winter, Sean Payton came calling.
“When he invited me to come down it was an opportunity to have some dignity in my career,” Trestman said Thursday. “I had just been let go at N.C. State. I wasn’t doing anything, I was sitting the year out, I had two years left on a contract. He invited me down and really showed professional respect.”
Payton was in his second year as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints and was coming off a 10-6 season that ended with a loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. With Trestman out of a job, he called him down to New Orleans to work as a consultant.
“It was more about a friendship between Sean and myself,” Trestman said. “We weren’t good friends at the time, but we had gotten to know each other. When I was out of football, I wound up spending some time with him and we used to do that when he was coordinator with the Giants — we’d go to symposiums and have lunch and talk football.”
That relationship led to what turned out to be an important learning experience for the future NFL head coach.
“Having the opportunity to be around the NFL at a very high level because of what they were doing there with Drew (Brees) and the offense, it was a great learning time for me,” Trestman said. “And it was also a good time to watch Sean be a head coach and see how he worked on a daily basis and see how he handled the success and the adversity, because during the year I was there they went through some adversity during the course of the season, so I got a chance to look at that — but how to get things done and do things the right way, it was impressive.”
Trestman ended up taking that knowledge to Canada. He was hired by the Montreal Alouettes that December and from there, well, you know the story: Five winning seasons and two Grey Cup titles.
In football, the winding, tangled branches of coaching trees usually end up meeting again toward the top, and that’s exactly what will happen Sunday at Soldier Field when Trestman’s Bears host Payton’s Saints.
“He’s someone that I’ve had the good fortune of knowing,” Payton said this week. “Ever since I got hired into the NFL in ’97, is when I first met Marc. He’s had a ton of experience in football, both at the college and pro level and obviously the CFL level. He worked with us for a year and I’m really happy that he’s gotten an opportunity.”
Like many meeting up with Trestman on his NFL reunion tour, Payton has nothing but good things to say about the first-year NFL head coach.
“He’s somebody that is very sharp. He’s a proven winner. You saw that as a head coach up in the CFL,” Payton said. “He’s someone that’s got very good thoughts offensively and yet, just as important, or more importantly, in leading his staff and he’s done a great job to start.”
Trestman isn’t the only former employee of Payton’s that he will face this week. Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer spent the last five seasons with the Saints and even served as the interim head coach for six games last season as Payton and assistant head coach Joe Vitt served NFL suspensions.
“I know Aaron very well,” Payton said. “We coached together in college at Miami of Ohio. I tried to hire him when I first got here but I wasn’t able to. I was finally able to get him out of Tampa Bay.”
Kromer served as the offensive line coach under Payton for the last four season before taking the promotion to offensive coordinator in Chicago, where the offensive line is still a main focus.
“The thing Aaron brought to us was real good consistent play up front,” Payton said. “He developed our linemen. He was a part of us winning a Super Bowl as our offensive line coach and someone that was really passionate about the game. This is one of those weeks where there’s a handful of players and coaches, coaches specifically, Aaron and Marc, that I’ve had a chance to work with and know and have good friendships with.”
And one of those players is offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod, who was drafted by the Saints in 2007 and earned Pro Bowl nods as the Saints’ left tackle in 2011 and 2012.
“They got an extremely dedicated player who’s very talented,” Payton said. “He’s a very hard worker. He’s very intelligent. So when you have a player like that, you know exactly what you’re getting every Sunday, and there’s a lot of value to that.”
Reunions are pretty common in the NFL, but considering Trestman’s unique path to an NFL head coaching job, this one has a different significance. Before settling his family in Raleigh in 2005, he decided he was done moving his family as his daughters were entering high school. So when he was let go at North Carolina State, it was an opportunity like Payton’s that allowed him to stay in the game without moving.
That year working with the Saints ended up being his last NFL experience before being hired by the Bears in January.
Based on the early returns on Trestman, it appears that experience paid off.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.