Reviewing “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork” by Marc Trestman

Reviewing “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork” by Marc Trestman
John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune

The story of the improbable head coach of the Chicago Bears, Marc Marlyn Trestman, is a remarkable one, and in his book “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork”, he tells it with a sense of humility and a wealth of admiration for those who helped him along the way.

The man who once interviewed for an offensive coordinator position under Lovie Smith right here in Chicago back in 2004 is now the Bears’ head coach as we get set to head into the 2013 regular season, but the journey that brought him here — to his dream of becoming an NFL head coach — is nothing short of amazing.

Although Trestman’s coaching resume in terms of longevity may appear suspect, cluttered with the names of nine different NFL franchises, two collegiate programs and one CFL team, he is by all accounts a wildly successful football coach.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • At 33 years-old in 1989, he became the youngest offensive coordinator in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns.
  • As an offensive coordinator, he helped lead four different NFL franchises to the playoffs in his first year with the team.
  • With the Oakland Raiders, Trestman’s offense led the NFL in total offense with 390 yards per game and in total passing yards with 280 yards per game. As a result they had the top rated offense for an unheard of 16 weeks straight. How unheard of? It had never been done before.
  • Was named NFL Offensive Coordinator of the Year by American Football Monthly with the San Francisco 49ers after coaching the team to the Super Bowl.
  • Took the Montreal Alouettes to a Grey Cup appearance in 2009, and then won it in 2010 and 2011.
  • Was the first collegiate quarterbacks coach to work one-on-one with Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde at the University of Miami. Both went on to NFL stardom.
  • In 1988, a Trestman-led Cleveland Browns offense led on the field by a fourth-option off-the-street QB, Don Strock, went to the playoffs.
  • After coaching full-time for just four months, the play of Trestman’s quarterback at the University of Miami, Bernie Kosar, led the team to a National Championship title and helped turn UM into the powerhouse it is today.

Does all this success lay at the feet of Marc Trestman and Marc Trestman alone? By no means, and one of the great things about the book is the lengths to which Trestman goes to to give credit to the coaches around him and the players on the field.

perseveranceBIGSo part of the question is why in world did such a successful coach bounce around so much? Well, the good ol’ boy politics of the NFL are one very good reason.

Take this scenario for example: After coaching the Browns to the AFC Championship Game in 1989, Trestman was summarily fried. Why? According to Trestman, a 65 year-old Bud Carson felt threatened and wanted him out of the picture. If that sounds a little too much like an excuse, consider that Carson’s Browns, sans Trestman, went 3-13 the following year.

If half of the story Trestman tells in his book regarding his bouncing around from team to team tells even another half of the actual picture, it’s plenty clear that his detailed resume is the result of one bad hand after another, not the job that was ultimately done on the football field.

Trestman’s self-described coaching style in the book is a direct reflection of his personality and focuses on attention to detail, work ethic, humility and respect, having players concentrate on “effort awareness” and staging purposely chaotic practices to the point that the communication on game-day becomes an easy environment for players to execute within.

He talks about learning the West Coast offense under Bill Walsh in San Francisco, who told Trestman that the basis for it actually came from Jerry Burns, Trestman’s long-time offensive coordinator years earlier in Minnesota.

Trestman talks a ton about the relationship between coach and QB and puts a great deal of focus on the necessity of having the right quarterback in place in order to be successful. Here’s one excerpt:

“Quarterbacks are not born, they’re developed. Without a coach to train him, and teach him the fundamentals and details in a dignified, organized manner — and at the highest standard — the quarterback cannot and will not succeed. No quarterback ever played at a high level without a demanding coach, and no coach ever became great without exceptional and consistent quarterback play. The two are completely intertwined.”

Certainly that is a broad and bold statement, and I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, but without that mindset in today’s NFL, the chances of being successful are slim to none, and that much is a fact.

Trestman doesn’t go into great detail describing his work with quarterbacks specifically but does say that the best path to success is picking one or two fundamentals a day to work on and not putting any unnecessary stress that could be information overload on the QB, as it already takes a “football intelligence level that is second to none” to play the position in the first place.

Additionally, Trestman talks about his commitment to having a high character roster and playing with respect for one’s self, the game and your opponent. He even teaches what is called “touchdown etiquette” to his players, saying, “The idea is that a player should not be doing anything that draws attention to himself by performing some overactive display of emotion or choreographed celebration. This is about respect.”

And as for character: “I made it very clear that I didn't care how fast a player was, or how tough they were; we were going to have a locker room of high character guys. I backed this up by releasing a few players early and some during the season. I wanted them to know I was very serious about it and that I meant it.”

Overall, Trestman’s story is a great and inspiring one.

I’ve never been one to give away too much in a book review, so I will stop with that and say that for fans who want to get a clearer picture of who the new head coach of the Chicago Bears is, this is a quick, easy and incredibly interesting read.

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