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Haugh: New Bears coach Trestman gets high marks from 49ers boss

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 9:59 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — If you believe former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., going from the Canadian Football League to the Bears for a head coach as smart as Marc Trestman requires no more adjustment than, say, switching from Molson to Goose Island for a beer connoisseur.

“Football’s football,” DeBartolo said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I know they will say the field is wider in the CFL and you can throw the ball more and all this stuff. But that’s malarkey. When you coach a football team, you coach a football team, whether it’s the Montreal Alouettes, the Bears or the 49ers. Marc will do fine. He’s a football coach and he’s a good one.”

DeBartolo based that opinion on the two seasons he got to know Trestman as 49ers offensive coordinator in 1995-96, when he regularly observed the long hours of the coach he called a “workaholic.” That tenure ended abruptly when the then-49ers owner infamously uttered “He’s gone!” when asked about Trestman at a news conference announcing the firing of coach George Seifert.

But as icy as DeBartolo sounded 17 years ago making a comment about Trestman he later regretted, he was every bit as warm welcoming another Bill Walsh protege into the ranks of NFL head coaches.

“He related well with everybody, a very personable and intelligent guy,” DeBartolo said. “Obviously his personality is 360 degrees different, but I liken him to (49ers coach) Jim Harbaugh. Jim put together a phenomenal staff and they relate well to everything he has done and his coaching abilities and I think Trestman will do the same thing in Chicago.

“He’s not an over-the-top boisterous type like my dear friend Mike Ditka. He doesn’t have that personality, but he’ll get the job done.”

It would have taken brilliance Trestman is reputed to possess to have predicted on Dec. 31 he would get this job.

For a guy who comes across as a button-down football conservative, Bears general manager Phil Emery continues to take bold risks that defined his first year. For such a humble man, Emery sure seems intent on proving he is the smartest guy in the room.

Don’t let his professorial black horn-rimmed glasses fool you. Hiring Trestman follows an eye-opening, against-the-grain pattern. First, Emery traded for a Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver in Brandon Marshall who had been arrested seven times. Next, Emery drafted a pass-rushing project out of Boise State, Shea McClellin, ahead of some other prospects such as Patriots rookie Chandler Jones who have proven to be more NFL-ready. Then he dismissed coach Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season that might have been good enough for many GMs to embrace the status quo.

Crossing into Canada to choose a coach who hasn’t called an NFL game in eight years over the likely NFL coach of the year in Bruce Arians represented Emery’s biggest stunner yet.

Intrepid, eh?

Arians spent seven hours at Halas Hall on Tuesday and made a strong impression on Bears management and quarterback Jay Cutler, but Emery clearly went with his gut in bucking convention. Just past midnight, he came to a conclusion he probably reached during his initial eight-hour interview with Trestman.

Emery earned the benefit of the doubt for such an unorthodox hire during an impressive 54-minute news conference Jan. 1 at Halas Hall that established trust worth remembering. Emery repeatedly used the word synergy, so we can assume he sensed it from Trestman more than Arians, Darrell Bevell or any of the other 10 known candidates he interviewed. In terms of approach and organizational skills, Emery apparently found his match in Trestman according to glowing testimonials on his behalf from respected football men such as DeBartolo, Steve Young, Rich Gannon, et al.

“I know Chicago, the Bears organization, and know him and they all stand for the same thing: Hard work,” said Jarrett Payton, the son of Bears’ legend Walter who played briefly for Trestman in Montreal. “Everybody talks about his X’s and O’s. But to me he’s known best as a good man who gets the most out of everybody.”

In terms of offensive minds, they come no more creative than Trestman. In terms of leadership, Trestman’s experience winning two Grey Cups with the Alouettes convinced Emery that he could command respect in the locker room.

Convincing everybody else might take more time. Natural, valid questions exist even for those of us who have vowed to keep an open mind.

If Trestman had such brilliance why has no other NFL team employed him since 2004? Did his reported willingness to keep some of the Bears’ defensive staff intact — a cheaper alternative — make him more attractive? Is the precision-based West Coast offense (Air Canada?) for which Trestman is known for a good fit for a quarterback such as Cutler who has struggled with accuracy?

Did the Bears really just reject the likely NFL coach of the year for Trestman?

This might be an inspired choice. Or it could be a disastrous one. As an NFL head coach, Trestman could be the next Marv Levy — who successfully transitioned from the CFL and eventually led the Bills to four Super Bowls. Or he could be the next Scott Linehan, a respected longtime NFL coordinator and offensive whiz who floundered.

Trestman’s early staff moves — hiring offensive line coach and coordinator Aaron Kromer from the Saints and special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis from the Cowboys — bode well for the Bears. The mystery surrounding Trestman only makes a fan base that was eager for change all the more curious. Trestman figures to impress Chicago at Thursday’s 11 a.m. introductory news conference as much as Emery did 15 days ago.

Indeed, the Bears’ new Canadian import suddenly finds himself on the spot and facing as much pressure as he ever has faced on the job — but not nearly as much as the man who hired him.

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