Will Marc Trestman and his coaching staff win in the NFL, boosting the CFL’s profile?
Former Montreal Alouettes' coach Marc Trestman may have left the CFL behind, but his success or failure with the NFL's Chicago Bears may still affect the league. From Bud Grant to Marv Levy and Joe Theismann to Doug Flutie, Cameron Wake and Brandon Browner, many of the ex-CFL players and coaches who have gone on to great things south of the border have done a lot to boost Canadian football's profile in the U.S., which is crucial from a perspective of how much top American talent the CFL can attract (both players and coaches). Trestman's success or failure in Chicago may be particularly crucial here, as his CFL background has been heavily featured in pieces about him and no one's really made the CFL to NFL transition recently on the coaching side.
Moreover, the staff Trestman has put together carries a heavy CFL flavour. The most prominent positions are held by experienced NFL hands, but five assistants (Andy Bischoff, Pat Meyer, Brendan Nugent, Carson Walch and Mike Sinclair)* were with the Alouettes last season and a sixth (Tim Tibesar) was the Alouettes' defensive coordinator in 2011. That's a substantial amount of CFL connections, and it reinforces the idea that this team will partly be seen as representing the quality of Canadian football. If Trestman and his staff go on to find success with the Bears, that could really boost the CFL's profile stateside, but if Chicago struggles under them, it could be a setback for the league.
What could Trestman's success or failure in Chicago mean for the CFL specifically? Well, first off, it will have a large impact on whether NFL teams are willing to consider coaching candidates from north of the border, both for head jobs and for assistant roles. At the moment, head-job consideration is pretty minimal; Trestman's an exception, and his remarkable previous success in the NFL and NCAA added as much or more to his resume from an NFL standpoint than what he did in Canada. (What he did with the Alouettes definitely put him over the top, as he wasn't getting a lot of head-coaching looks before heading to the CFL, but he landed the Bears' job on the strength of much more than just his northern resume.) If Trestman's Chicago tenure turns out to be great, though, that could well lead NFL teams to start seriously considering more coaching candidates who have found success north of the border.
At first, that may seem like a drawback for the CFL, as no one likes to see their coaches leave. On the whole, though, increased NFL coaching recruitment from the CFL ranks would likely be a positive; if the CFL is seen as a viable path to an NFL job, more and more top American coaching candidates would consider it instead of the more traditional routes (NCAA or less-prominent NFL positions). The recruitment advantages would likely more than overcome the sting of losing a few coaches. It would be similar with players; success for Trestman means more written about the CFL stateside (and more respect for the league's quality there), making it seem like more of a viable route to the NFL for many of them. Again, while this would likely lead to a few more players heading south, the influx of talent should more than make up for it.
Will Trestman actually find success in Chicago, though? Well, that's up in the air. There are plenty of points in his favour, from his motivational abilities and his proven success with quarterbacks to his offensive scheme's past success north and south of the border. However, NFL coaching's far from an easy job, and while the Bears have plenty of talent that will likely fit Trestman's schemes well, they also have some obvious flaws (particularly on the offensive line). Moreover, this isn't a town that will have a lot of patience; the Bears missed the playoffs this year, but they still went 10-6. Trestman's going to have to adapt quickly and take this team to a new level. If he does, that could be a tremendous boost for the CFL's southern reputation. If he can't pull it off, though, those who doubt the quality of the CFL will once again come out in full force.
*Correction: this piece initially omitted Sinclair from the count of Als' assistants last season. He was a Montreal assistant last year, then left for Saskatchewan, but jumped to the Bears before really working with the Riders. Thanks to Steve for the heads-up.