Brandon Marshall wasn’t a fan of Marc Trestman when he first took over the Chicago Bears for Lovie Smith. It didn’t take long for that to change. So with his second season on the way how do the comparisons measure up between the former CFL coach and his predecessor?
Everybody should stop for a second and think about this. If Mel Tucker were offensive coordinator for Chicago in 2013 and fielded the 32nd ranked offense in the league, would he still have a job if Lovie Smith were in charge? The answer isn’t hard to predict. Smith had four different offensive coordinators during his stint with the Bears. In fact his very first one Terry Shea did field the worst offense in football in 2004 and Smith ended up replacing him with Ron Turner. Time has shown that Marc Trestman is not as impulsive. Instead of starting from scratch on defense, he has favored stability, electing to keep Tucker, who is popular with the players and instead make adjustments to his defensive staff by adding more experience with veteran coaches like Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring.
Was it the right decision? Well in 2005 the Bears fielded the 29th overall offense under Turner, a modest improvement from the year before. So in order to be considered the right call Tucker will have to oversee a defensive turnaround that gets at least to 28th overall. It sounds like an easy job considering Tucker is no longer handcuffed by having to run Smith’s old scheme and also being able to add players he wants. Still, time will tell.
As a defensive head coach it’s natural that Lovie Smith wouldn’t know how to relate to a quarterback. That’s not his fault but it’s impossible to ignore that factor. During his four seasons under Smith, Jay Cutler didn’t hate his head coach but also wasn’t shy about admitting the need for a change in 2013. That candidness could be considered a byproduct of Smith not holding the offense to a higher standard than he had the defense for so many years. Meanwhile Cutler was stuck with several different coordinators, bad offensive lines and limited weaponry. Marc Trestman changed all that because he understood from the very beginning that the quarterback is the key. Success for Chicago would come through the success of that position, namely Cutler. That meant better pass protection and more targets to throw to. Suddenly Jay has a new contract, scheme stability and a chance to grow as a quarterback for the first time in years.
The Injury Bug
Lovie Smith has experienced the Injury Bug before on a similar scale to what the Bears did in 2013. His first season as head coach saw the team gutted by losses to such stalwarts like Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown and a young Rex Grossman. The team finished the season 5-11. Health is obviously paramount for any team every year but some have proven able to overcome such issues. Marc Trestman could be one of them. He too watched his defense fall apart with season-ending blows to key players like Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, and D.J. Williams. Throw in the loss of Jay Cutler for five games and people would’ve rightfully thought the Bears were cooked. Instead Trestman was able to rally what was left of the roster, made some adjustments and the team finished one win away from the playoffs at 8-8.
Alshon Jeffery and Kyle Long
Perhaps the most damning evidence in the argument between Trestman and Smith regarding the Chicago Bears is in player development. When Smith took over most of the talent that would bring about his greatest success was already on the roster. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman became outstanding inherited projects for him, which he developed well. However team success is defined by coaches who can draft players and then mold them into stars. Only three players Smith accomplished that feat with were defensive tackles Tommie Harris, Henry Melton and running back Matt Forte.
Trestman is already catching up. His very first draft pick, guard Kyle Long reached the Pro Bowl as a rookie and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery emerged as one of the best pass targets in football. Even rookie 5th round pick Jordan Mills started 16 games. As of now Smith has more Pro Bowlers on his record, but considering how many players were drafted under his watch and didn’t pan out, it is an indictment on his ability to pinpoint and develop young talent. Marc Trestman is off to a much better start.
Lovie Smith got the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl. That is the benchmark Trestman will be judged against regardless if the team makes the playoffs more often during his tenure. Still, as far as career starts go it seems the new man in charge has a leg up on the one he replaced.