When Marc Trestman was named the 14th head coach of the Chicago Bears last week, a lot of focus was put on his knowledge of the game of football, his ability to develop quarterbacks, and his experience in the NFL, NCAA and the CFL.
Missing in most of the analysis, however, was a look at the quality of the man himself.
As someone who got to know Coach Trestman well in his five years in Montreal, I am excited and proud to see him get such a high-profile job and I’m beyond confident that the Bears have guaranteed themselves a very good ride in the years to come.
An impactful person
Everyone has a few life-changing experiences over the course of their personal lives and professional careers.
Professionally, probably the most profound life-changing moment I ever had was one that surely affected many more people than just me: It was the day Marc Trestman first walked into the Alouettes’ locker room.
At the time, I was working in the team’s PR department out of their Olympic Stadium offices and I had gotten to know the inner-workings of the football operations department and personnel pretty well.
I had the chance to work with Jim Popp, Don Matthews, and a lot of other really interesting football people. We were a successful club with a good working environment and we had a lot of fun.
From Don Matthews to Marc Trestman
As CFL fans will remember, Matthews was the head coach from 2002 to late-2006. After he resigned, Popp split the GM and head coach duties in 2007 and at the end of the ’07 campaign, the GM decided it was time to find a new coach and focus solely on the talent end of the business.
Up to then, the only Alouettes I had ever known were the Matthews-era Alouettes, the culture of which was basically the same with Popp on the sidelines.
Marc Trestman is the kind of leader people rally around and are inspired by.
Matthews was a winner, plain and simple, and the way he did it was to give the team an “us-against-the-world” character. It worked well as the team repeatedly finished in first place, won the 2002 Grey Cup and appeared in three more title games in that period.
After Popp’s lone season as head coach, however, Trestman came in and completely changed the entire attitude and philosophy of the team: Instead of “us-against-the-world” it became just “us.”
A uniting force
There’s no disputing that Matthews’ style worked: When he retired, he was the winningest coach in league history. From a personal perspective, Matthews was a lot of fun to be around and I was fortunate to have learned a lot from his experience in many one-on-one talks.
But when Trestman walked into the locker room, the entire atmosphere shifted.
On his first day, he held a meeting with all of the club’s Olympic Stadium staff in the special teams room, and invited us to all be part of the team instead of simply support staff that served the players’ and coaches’ needs.
That move said a lot about how Trestman was going to run the show.
In the subsequent months, while Trestman built up his staff, met with his players and developed the groundwork that would lead to two championships and four first-place finishes, he always made the time to make sure everyone involved truly felt they were part of the team.
A great example was during the 2009 playoff run when, as is typical in pro sports, he had t-shirts with a slogan on them made for all of the players and coaches. Atypically, however, he also made a point of sending a t-shirt to every single Alouettes staff member at both the operations office at the Big O as well as the team’s administration office downtown.
This may seem trivial to most people, but if you understand the inner workings of any pro sports team, it’s very common to see a disconnect and even animosity between the operations and administrations offices – admin staff feel dismissed by the ops staff and the ops people feels like they’re treated as commodities by the admin staff.
Trestman’s simple gesture of printing up another 30 or so t-shirts helped build bridges and create an atmosphere in which the team’s key staff was all pulling in the same direction.
A winning atmosphere
In football, the attitude of an entire organization comes down to its coach. Jim Popp is the best general manager in the history of the CFL and a truly pleasant and genuine person, but he’s not the one who sets the tone as the GM.
When Matthews was there, the club had Matthews’ personality. When Trestman was there, the club had his personality. Whoever is on the sidelines in 2013 – the team will have his personality.
Regardless of what the future brings, however, the next coach should be well schooled in the concept of team building – something Trestman brought to Montreal that, if the club is lucky, will be a lasting legacy.
Once Trestman is firmly entrenched as coach of the Bears, you can be sure that club will have the same kind of personality: Honest, united and ultimately, victorious.