TELANDER: Levy, Trestman both coached in Canada, had great success
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org February 1, 2013 9:46AM
In this Sept. 29, 2012 photo, Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman talks into his headset during the final minutes of a Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, Ontario. The Bears hired Trestman on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, to replace the fired Lovie Smith, hoping he can get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler and make Chicago a playoff team on a consistent basis. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Geoff Robins)
Updated: February 25, 2013 1:04PM
Did you know that up over da border, eh, they play pro football with 12 men per side, only three downs per series, on a field the size of Manitoba?
Well, the Canadian Football League field isn’t quite that big. More Great Bear Lake-size. Actually, a CFL field is 110 yards long by 65 yards wide with two 20-yard-deep end zones. The NFL goes 100 yards by 53½ yards with 10-yard-deep end zones.
‘‘None of that is going to matter to Marc,’’ says our old pal Marv Levy, 87, the Hall of Fame coach who spent five years in the CFL before returning to the United States to continue his career in the NFL.
Levy is speaking of Marc Trestman, the Bears’ new coach who’s coming ‘‘south of the border,’’ as Trestman put it at his news conference, to begin his first head-coaching gig in this country. Levy is close to the 57-year-old Trestman, both in demeanor, intelligence and career arc. In fact, Trestman had Levy come back up to Canada to advise him for a couple of weeks when he started with the Montreal Alouettes in 2008, just to get him on the right track.
‘‘There are amazing parallels in our careers,’’ continues Levy, who’s calling from Arizona but lives with his wife, Fran, on the North Side. ‘‘Both of us went to the Alouettes, both of us coached there for five years. Both of us went to three Grey Cups, winning two. And then both of us were offered head-coaching jobs in the NFL.’’
One other similarity: Both men were named coach of the year in the CFL. Oh, and both have post-graduate degrees — Levy with a master’s in English literature, Trestman with a law degree.
But the concern is that coming from a league where the rules are different in so many ways, Trestman might not be able to adapt quickly to NFL game management. Consider that CFL kicks through the end zone are worth one point (a rouge), a receiver needs only one foot inbounds for a good catch, all backfield players (and there is an extra one) except the quarterback can run in motion pre-snap toward the line of scrimmage — giving the appearance of a mini-stampede — there are only 20 seconds to get a play off vs. 40 in the NFL and even the ball is slightly different.
‘‘No, none of that will matter,’’ Levy says. ‘‘The season ends so early up there that all the coaches and scouts spend a huge amount of time following and analyzing the NFL. CFL scouts go to bowl games. Coaches tape NFL games. Honestly, Marc will be bringing nothing hut pluses.’’
Levy remembers some of the humor he learned when he first went to the CFL.
‘‘Somebody told me we had 12 men,’’ Levy said. ‘‘And I said, ‘You didn’t tell me the other team did, too.’ And I remember some American coach up in Canada writing a book titled Suddenly It Was Third Down.’’
Third down is a huge down in the CFL, and because long drives are difficult and you’re always looking for the big scoring play, teams, Levy says, often go for it if they’re near midfield and two or three yards shy of a first down.
The hurry-up aspect also helped Levy when he was with the Buffalo Bills and guided them to four consecutive Super Bowls. One other thing: Levy developed that rare working ability with his quarterback, Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, the kind of elite relationship that Bill Walsh had with Joe Montana and Steve Young, that Tony Dungy had with Peyton Manning, that Bill Belichick has with Tom Brady.
Levy goes so far as to speculate that Trestman, a premier quarterbacks coach, could develop such a relationship with prickly, talented but unrewarded quarterback Jay Cutler.
‘‘You know, when I came back as the general manager with the Bills a few years ago, the year that Cutler was coming out,’’ Levy says, ‘‘he was the quarterback I wanted. We had defensive needs, so we weren’t looking for a quarterback. But Jay really struck me. He’s a little bit of a character. But he works.’’
And if you need more good hopes, Chicago, Levy concludes, ‘‘I think Jay’s got the right guy. Marc’s a superb teacher. Not hellfire and brimstone. But he is nothing but pluses.’’
And the CFL?
‘‘The same thing wins in both places.’’