He was not convinced he had found his life’s purpose. After coaching in Tampa Bay and Cleveland, Trestman returned to the Vikings as quarterbacks coach in 1990, then was let go by new coach Dennis Green in 1992. Trestman moved to Florida and sold municipal bonds, figuring he was done with the game.
“I liked what I was doing,’’ Trestman said. “I was focused on my family and on building a business. And then football found me again, with no intention. That’s when I thought, ‘This must be what I’m supposed to do.’’’
San Francisco coach George Seifert revived Trestman’s coaching career in 1995, starting a 10-year run in which Trestman and his quarterbacks flourished. As the 49ers offensive coordinator, he directed the highest-scoring offense in the league and laid the frame work for Jerry Rice to set a then-NFL record with 1,848 receiving yards that season. In Detroit, his instruction helped Scott Mitchell throw for 3,484 yards, then the second-highest total in franchise history. In Oakland, he coached the NFL’s most productive offense and helped Gannon, at age 37, earn honors as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
But his second act was no more stable than his first. Though he was lauded for his intellect, his attention to detail and his immersive work ethic, Trestman’s career stalled again in 2006, when his two-season run at North Carolina State ended with the coaching staff’s dismissal.
Disillusioned and angry, Trestman found himself contemplating the footprint he had left through his 51 years. He had spent most of it driven by the tangible measures of his profession: wins and losses, yards and touchdowns. Behind the details, he realized, there were hearts and minds and human beings he never had really seen. In his next job, he vowed not to make the same mistake.
“You start thinking about your mortality, that time is running out and you’ve got to figure this thing out,’’ Trestman said. “What am I going to leave if I’m just focused on me? You start thinking more and more about giving everything of yourself that you can and asking nothing in return.
“That was really a transformation for me, realizing that you’ve got to get first downs, and you’ve got to score, but the fulfillment comes in the relationships built around doing that. The relationships are the purpose. You can help [players] master their craft, and you can help them be better people and fathers and husbands when they’re done.’’
Success Up North
That attitude quickly endeared him to the Bears. Trestman has fostered mutual respect with his players, soliciting their input and giving Cutler the latitude and tools to take command of the offense. Last Sunday, Cutler confidently led the Bears to a come-from-behind victory that left teammates raving about Trestman’s play-calling and faith in his personnel.
“He’s been really receptive to my ideas,’’ Cutler said. “He’s really smart, not only about football, but about life. He wanted to help the guys as much as possible, not only on the field but off.’’
Trestman got a little off-field aid himself on his way back to the NFL. His daughters, Sarahanne and Chloe, had been tugged all over the country by his career; when he took the job at North Carolina State, he promised them they could finish high school in Raleigh, N.C.
Jim Popp, general manager of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, had admired him since Trestman coached alongside Popp’s father in Cleveland. To land him as head coach, the Alouettes offered to allow Trestman to live in Raleigh during the offseason and bring his family to Montreal for frequent visits. After leading the team to the CFL’s title game in his first season, Trestman guided it to two championships and built quarterback Anthony Calvillo into a two-time league MVP.
“Marc was never afraid to say ‘I don’t know everything,’ even in public,’’ Popp said. “He wasn’t afraid to take advice and give it a try. And he was always watching, listening and learning, educating himself so he could grow and get better.’’
Though Cutler has a history of fraught relationships with coaches, former Vikings executive Jeff Diamond predicted Trestman will be able to tap his full potential, given Trestman’s interpersonal skills and his association with many of the game’s greatest minds.
“He is going to be a successful head coach in the NFL,’’ said Diamond, a friend of Trestman’s since childhood. “He’s a creative, innovative guy and a great leader who has benefited from all of his life experiences. He should have had this opportunity a long time ago.’’
Trestman’s parents, Jerry and Sharon, and sister Cari all live in the Twin Cities and are adjusting to the idea of rooting for a division rival of their beloved Vikings. Trestman, known for his ability to counter whatever opponents throw at him, is adapting, too.
He acknowledged that Chicago is a big stage for a debut, draped in history and tradition. Still, Trestman said he is not nervous, despite waiting so many years for this moment to arrive. He hadn’t planned on taking the long way, but it turned out to be the best route.
“I think the thing I appreciate most now is that I got this job when I was never thinking about getting it,’’ he said. “I felt as long as I was focused on being the best head coach I could be in Montreal, that somewhere along the line, I would be given genuine consideration. I’m so grateful. And I’m confident that the passion I have for this game is worthy of the opportunity.’’