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Still-new Bears coach Marc Trestman opened his press conference on Tuesday by first extending his sympathy to victims of Sunday's tornadoes, and then to fans who stuck out the horrible weather to watch the game at Soldier Field.
That might not seem unusual, but it's actually a 180-degree turn from the antagonistic Halas Hall culture that Lovie Smith created over his tenure.
Trestman then turned to reviewing the game, telling reporters "First, I'll give you some content - some things you guys can work with."
"Okay!" I heard The Score's Dan Bernstein over the station's broadcast of the press conference. I mean, thanks! Is this guy for real?
And then Trestman did something really extraordinary - extraordinary in part because it shouldn't be unusual at all in professional sports but is incredibly rare: He explained a controversial strategic decision he made as fully as any head coach in the history of the NFL has done. And he did so without becoming defensive or patronizing. In other words, he behaved like an adult who understands not just his inside view of the game but the way the game looks from fans and reporters on the outside (desperate to know more).
In the aftermath, reporters who wondered why Trestman made the calls he did at the end of regulation play on Sunday - namely, why he didn't use any time-outs to give the Bears a chance to retaliate as the Ravens drove down the field for a potential game-winning touchdown - revised their criticism or at least offered their newly enlightened respect for why Trestman did what he did.
That, too, rarely happens.
One effect: Trestman killed the drama and a week's worth of debate simply by telling the truth. And guess what? No harm was done - only good. The opposition didn't gain any particular insight that will help them defeat the Bears in the future, but we gained insight into factors that Trestman and his staff think about that we hadn't thought of ourselves.
Here's that explanation. I listened to it live, but I've stolen the transcript from the excellent Adam Hoge, whose column about this you should also read, especially to get introduced to the team's analytics guy:
I think it's a very fair question. But let me just give you a big picture. When you call time-outs at the end of halves, you want to call them in succession if you can. If you're calling them just hit or miss, there's really no value on that.
So just a little bit of history, when you start a drive from the 16-yard line, you have a 13 percent chance, probably in the last five years, to score a touchdown. And you have to take that into consideration when you go into the game. And then when a team's driving, you need to know what they have and you need to know what you have. They had two time-outs at the time. And we had three time-outs.
Well, the normal thinking is you never want to leave a game with your three time-outs. You want to get them back, especially in those situations. But the fact of the matter is that there was really no time to use the time-outs. And when you're in a two-minute situation and if you use your time-outs and there's no way you can call them in succession, you give them more time on each and every play to get the people out there that they want to complete that, to get that play done. So you have to consider that.
So really, only the first time where I considered really calling a time-out was after Ray Rice had the 11-yard run down to the 5-yard line. And he took that ball with, I think it was about 1:16 when he had that ball. That was the first time. I was down there with the official. That was the first time. But when you put it all together, the numbers all together, if you call three time-outs right there in succession, you're still only getting the ball back at 18 seconds. OK? If you let it run, they're in a 2-minute mode and now they've got to call two time-outs.
So a couple things come into play with them using their two time-outs. Number one, they didn't call a time-out on the first one which means they had to call a play out of their 2-minute package instead of using their red-zone package. So that's number one. They didn't call a time-out and get into different personnel groupings. They called a play. And then by using their two time-outs, we knew what they had to do on third down. They had to throw it. Because there wasn't enough time left to do anything else.
So we cut the percentages in half of run to pass and then it was just one big leap of faith. If we had called three time-outs in a row, we've got 19, 18 seconds left at the max. So, the percentage of them scoring . . . It's a leap of faith. They went all the way down the field. Three points yes. Tied the game. Seven points? We're talking 13 percent.
And then from an offensive standpoint as a play-caller, I know if you call time-out, you get what you want out there. If not, you've got a limited bag of plays you can use. So that's the reasoning behind it. I would have loved to have been able to have a situation when they were running the ball and they started to get into that field-goal area, where we could have plugged the time-outs, each one on top of each other. But that wasn't the case.
I don't think the local sports media has caught on yet to the fact that Trestman is a football sabermetrician - everything Theo Epstein wants in a Cubs manager. (And can we get a shout-out to Bears general manager Phil Emery, who is beating Theo at his own game?) This also explains Trestman's penchant for going for it on fourth down, which is like the advanced metric of football that preserving outs is to baseball. Punting his highly discouraged.
Trestman's touch has also been skillful in deflating as much as possible any notion of a quarterback controversy.
After Josh McCown's successful starting debut against the Packers, Trestman said without being asked that Jay Cutler would return to starting as soon as doctors cleared him.
After McCown's successful start against the Ravens on Sunday, Trestman said "Jay is the quarterback of our football team, and Josh is our backup quarterback, and the three of us all know that."
Even if there is a quarterback controversy in his own mind, Trestman has made it clear inside and outside of the locker room that there is an unambiguous starter on this team, and an unambiguous backup, leaving no room for other possibilities to fester. It's a deft touch.
In September I wrote something similar about Trestman (I Might Be In Love With Marc Trestman) that described the culture change occurring at Halas Hall.
Earlier this month, Hoge reported a story I don't think has gotten enough attention in light of recent events in the NFL:
Marc Trestman had a clear message for his new football team.
"I told the team the first night, when you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody's here to help you win."
Throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason, Trestman preached the importance of treating teammates with respect and playing for each other. He did so to avoid the kind of divide that is going on in Miami right now, where Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins because of incessant bullying by Richie Incognito, who has since been suspended indefinitely.
This is not just noteworthy on its own merits, but because A) Trestman has no fear of what others might think, i.e., that's he not "tough" enough himself and B) he tied his policy to the objective of winning. In other words, bullying isn't only wrong, it interferes with a team's goals.
The Bears head coach has spent time with nine different NFL organizations, including the Dolphins in 2004, and he said some of those places had hazing and others didn't. He's seen it first hand as an assistant and he didn't want it in his locker room when he finally got his chance to be an NFL head coach.
As Hoge notes, the Bears had a bullying environment pre-Trestman, citing former linebacker Hunter Hillenmyer's comments to The Score:
The first year I filled in for Urlacher when he was on injured reserve (in 2004) for a large part of the year, I hated coming into work because of Olin (Kreutz.) He was a jerk. He was riding me because I was the third-year guy, or second-year guy trying to fill in for a superstar. I can relate in the sense that you're going to have people in your workplace that you don't necessarily like.
(Kreutz) thought that everything he was always doing was in the best interest of the team. I don't want that to come across like I'm admonishing him or saying that he was a bad leader. He was a great leader, but at the same time, when you have a room full of alpha males who were all the best players on their high school teams and one of the best players on their college team, to get them to buy in and fall into line, you need people that take leadership roles in an aggressive way like that.
If you're Jerry Angelo or you're Lovie Smith, as much as you might not approve of some of the methods, you like the results . . . People were going to come to OTAs and they weren't going to have loose lips with the media, they weren't going to do a lot of things to damage the locker room - not because they didn't want to, but because they were scared of Olin.
Make no mistake - most players generally loved playing for Lovie. They thought he had their backs. He created a fortress in that locker room that outsiders were not allowed to penetrate. It was the us-against-the-world strategy.
But it only worked for certain kinds of players - players like Kreutz and his defensive counterpart, Brian Urlacher. Trestman is building a team that works for everyone.
Because, as Hoge notes, being scared of Olin hampered the team. In fact, Kreutz's presence was so large that when left to sign with the Saints in 2011, some local sports reporters commented to the effect that "Now this can be Jay's team."
It was also Urlacher's team, and there likely has never been a professional athlete in this town as ungrateful and ingracious. (Cutler, too, has been known to voice his exasperation with the fans who pay his salary. Perhaps if Lovie Smith - and Jerry Angelo - had been as forthright as Trestman and not treated the team's inner thinking and locker room as sacred halls of Olympus, unnecessary drama would have been averted; we might still be paying for that one in watching an obviously hobbled Cutler staying in the Lions game too long, perhaps to prove a point.)
Trestman played the game, in college if not the NFL, and has held innumerable coaching positions. He's been inside football culture his whole life. But he's also long been a forward-looking innovator unafraid of change. And, eat your heart out Theo, he's a guru of player development. He succeeds by doing the right thing, not in spite of it.
We didn't love Lovie, but in Trestman we trust.
1. From Walt Jakielski:
That was a great article. As a longtime Chicago Bears fan (50 years & counting), your article reflected my feelings exactly. I really admire Mr. Trestman. Thanks.
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