Trestman Cutler

A big part of Marc Trestman's job is opening a line of communication to Jay Cutler.
(Photo/Mike Reilley)

What Makes Marc Trestman Tick?

Analysis by Mary Ellen Shoup

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013

It is hard to know what to expect from the Chicago Bears’ new head coach Marc Trestman. Now that the Lovie Smith era of coaching has come to a close, Bears fans will have to get used to a new style of coaching.

It seems to many Bears fans as a leap of faith by Bears general manager Phil Emery to hire a Trestman, a former NFL assistant and quarterbacks guru  who has been away from the league for 10 years coaching the CFL. 

But the transition to an entirely different coaching style can be positive for the Bears who seem to need a new personality type to lead them to a championship.

Many who know Trestman describe him as introverted and someone who dedicates most of his time to strategic planning for his players, but will this distance him from his players and create an uncomfortable dynamic?

One of Trestman’s supporters is Rich Gannon, a former NFL quarterback who was coached by Trestman when he played with Minnesota Vikings in 1990-91 and then again with the Oakland Raiders in 2002, the same year Oakland went to the Super Bowl.  Gannon believes Trestman taught him everything he knows during that time and helped him earn the NFL Most Valuable Player award.

“You’re going to get a guy who’s really good with players,” Gannon told “He’s a great communicator. He’s a wonderful teacher.”

Trestman's book, Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork points to a coach who is capable of bonding with his players on a more sentimental level.

“You see, as a coach I became a teacher, a father, a confident, a mentor; not just a guy trying to make first downs. It was an entirely different mindset. I began to realize that for some, I was the first male figure in their lives away from home. They became my children, in a sense, and I began to care deeply about each and every one of them in a way that went beyond the game," he wrote.

He also writes that at each seemingly dead end he did his best to create a new opportunity for himself. At age 57, Trestman has reflected on what aspects and characteristics he can change about himself.  He has referred to himself as having a “standoffish personality” and even his wife has mentioned how he struggles socially. 

Because this was the area he struggled in Trestman threw himself into work that he did not develop or maintain relationships with the people around him.  He may have had the best ideas for the game but no one to be in his corner when he tried to implement them. His aloofness was an obstacle for Trestman to overcome which emphasizes the importance and consequences of not balancing networking in the league with behind-the-scenes work.

Marc Trestman Jay Cutler Photo
Trestman watches Jay Cutler drop back on the fourth full practice of training camp.
(Photo/Mike Reilley)

But what must Bears players and fans keep in mind in order to make this partnership work?

Susan Cain, author The New York Times bestseller "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking", spoke last spring at Regina High School about how people view introverts differently.

“We tend to look at introversion through its cons and extraversion through its pros,” she said.

She explained that American society has long emphasized an importance on being able to talk well and often, a quality that the Bears are used to with past coaches. It is no wonder that as a society we tend romanticize the most outspoken and legendary personalities in Chicago coaching history like Mike Ditka who led the Bears to Super Bowl Championship victory in 1985. Fans have to realize that it is not the head coach and his loud, go-getter personality that wins championships but a combination of many factors.

This notion of the extrovert ideal is so prevalent especially among Americans that when groups are formed, especially in the business setting, there’s a tendency to believe the most assertive person has the best ideas even though there is zero correlation between the two. Cain argues that this is a major problem for how we deal with introverts and certainly something to keep in mind when adjusting to Trestman’s coaching style.

Cain further supports her argument by quoting a famous introvert, Albert Einstein, “‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with the problems longer.’ ”

That quote explains how introverts, like Trestman, think. 

“They are much more persistent when solving problems and most times come up with the better solution,” Cain said.

When comparing the grades of introverts and extroverts in college, introverts tend to absorb more knowledge and get better grades because of the extra time they spend thinking about what they learn.

“The amazing thing about this is that they’re not smarter, there’s no IQ difference whatsoever between these two personality types," Cain said. 'The difference is that the very emotional, behavioral, intellectual style that gets introverts into trouble in our very extroverted society actually turns out to be very useful."

John Mullin, a nationally syndicated Bears Insider reporter for, has covered the team since the end of the Mike Ditka era. With his extensive experience covering the Bears and as the author of four books, he said he thinks Trestman will be a positive addition to the Bears.

But do fans agree? According to a poll last spring on the sports blog SB Nation, 24 percent said they feel 90 to 100 percent comfortable with Trestman taking over as the Bears new head coach. More than 75 percent of the over 524 votes still need convincing that he is the right man for the job.

"You're going to get a guy who's really good with players."

Rich Gannon Former NFL quarterback

 Lifetime bears fan Dana Oberlin thinks the head coaching switch will be a good one.

“I’ve been watching this team since the Halas era," Oberlin said. "The players have changed but this team especially needs a little bit of a different leader. Lovie seemed too passive to me. The focus and intense concentration Trestman seems to bring to the table will serve them well.  They don’t need a buddy, they need a coach.”

Trestman’s many years of experience in professional football is unquestionable. But it does not reflect a typical head coach’s career path. 

Considered a talented offensive strategist, Trestman is no stranger to the NFL, though he hasn't coached in the league in several years. He was a candidate for the head coaching position for the 49ers in 1987. His career to date has consisted of seven firings and that resulted in a move to the Montreal Alouettes. The multiples firings could be seen as a red flag for any team, player, or fan but is an aspect of his career Trestman talks freely about.

And perhaps it might have gotten Trestman into trouble in the past when he was ushered out of many teams even after producing impressive results with players like Gannon and Steve Young.

Trestman’s intense focus and attention to detail that must be seen as a strength instead of weakness in his leadership role. While he may not supply a print reporter with the most entertaining or offbeat quotes, his technique and offensive-end game design will be where he makes a positive impression if Chicagoans will let him.

“He's quite guarded at this early point in his tenure so while he is generous with time answering questions, he is clearly someone who will err on the side of avoiding creating controversy or providing anything like bulletin-board material for opponents or what a coach would view as "competitive information”,” Mullin said.

To his point and according to Cain, this is one of the quintessential markings of an extreme introverted personality.  A famous study by management theorist Jim Collins shows that many of the best-performing companies of the late twentieth century were headed by CEOs who were more known for their extreme humility and introspection combined with professionalism. Any leadership position whether it be in the business or athletic arena comes with expectations but an outgoing and outspoken personality is certainly not a prerequisite according to Mullin and as proven by Collins’s study.

"Players have told me that they want two things from a coach, any coach: One is that they are working as hard in their arena as the players are in theirs, and that they are providing sound plans. Players don't expect coaches to conjure magic, just give them the arrows in the quiver that they need to win,” Mullin said.

These characteristics all go into creating a leader who people come to admire and respect although the personal dynamic may not be instantaneous because of some common cultural -- but inaccurate -- perceptions about personalities and leadership positions.

When looking at Trestman and what he brings to the table, Bears fans will need tangible and visible skills to help build a positive outlook on the season but that first starts with understanding what introversion really means. Because so much of what we believe is shaped by a cultural bias, it is important to make the distinction that introversion and being antisocial are not the same thing. So the coach who depends on solitude and personal space to design the best game plans possible is not doing so because he does not like people but rather because he is “differently social” according to Cain.

Shyness and introversion do not necessarily go hand-in-hand either, as Cain points out in her book. The root of shyness is the fear of negative social judgment from others and unfortunately individuals who are perceived as too quiet are usually given the stigma of being shy.

Marc Trestman Matt Forte Story
Trestman is very active in practices, often trailing plays and whistling them dead.
Here, he drops into coverage on running back Matt Forte on a short passing drill.
(Photo/Mike Reilley)

Cain stresses that introverted leaders do things differently and sometimes better than extroverts. Introverts tend to lose focus when interacting too much with other people, so many benefit from personal time to reflect and recharge. Introverted personalities are more interested in listening and gathering information than in being the loudest person in the room dominating the discussion.

Unlike extroverts, introverts are more likely to stimulate productivity because of their willingness to listen and consider all ideas before making a decision. A study carried out by Wharton management professor, Adam Grant demonstrated that introverted leaders and their teams had 24 percent better results than the teams of extroverted leaders because of their willingness and an “inclination to listen others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions”. In comparison, extroverted leaders are preoccupied with their own personal contribution that they risk missing out on good ideas from others.

Trestman writes in the introduction of his biography Perseverance that when he reached the “halftime” point in his own life he vowed to switch his focus to finding the hidden value in others.

“In order to achieve success though, the players and coaches as well as everyone in the organization must unselfishly relinquish their personal needs for the betterment of the team.”

Trestman tells readers of his book that he is in the people business and does not crave the spotlight. To him it is an honor to coach professional football teams and a career that has taken him many different directions.

“When I get up in the morning my focus is NOT on me, but rather on teaching and serving those around me,” he wrote.

While there is much speculation and anticipation surrounding Trestman’s future as the new head coach only a season will tell what type of coach he will be. Trestman places a high value on being involved not just in the office but on the playing field. 

“Others have told me that Trestman will be the most thorough coach Bears players will ever play for," Mullin said. "He is active on the practice field but it is far too early to gauge anything like tendencies, demeanor during games or even practice for that matter.”

Moving from team to team and eventually Montreal has given a Trestman a diversified set of experiences and challenges. His extensive coaching experience makes him uniquely qualified for the job.

“I don't think he will have to make a lot of adjustments," Mullin said. "He's been a coordinator in the NFL and a head coach, albeit in Canada, so he comes with experience managing football players. The interesting thing will be to see what he brings in and how much the NFL will have to adjust to him."

And if his career in Canada is not a selling point for Trestman’s coaching abilities and testament to the power of introverted personalities, it should be. He was faced with the challenge of moving to a different country to coach on a different league with different rules and in his first season led the Alouettes to the Grey Cup Finals, the Super Bowl equivalent. His success was done quietly and by putting the team and his players first.

Trestman’s resume proves that he is undoubtedly one of the most qualified people for the job and his enthusiasm is undeniable even if it is more low key than exuberant Bears fan are used to. And if fans are still looking for a reason to trust Trestman and his vision for the Bears they need to look no further then the most common bond of all, the love of the game.

“Football is without question the greatest game ever created. I love it, I really do,” Trestman said in the introduction of his book.

Passion aside, in the end, it comes down to results, Mullin said.

“If he wins, it was genius. If the Bears slip backwards, 'what were they thinking?' ” he said.

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