New offensive coordinator Marc Trestman talks about learning the Ravens' offense and not forcing the team to adjust to his offense. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Marc Trestman has been in this situation before.
In 1995, he was hired as the San Francisco 49ers' quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, replacing Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, who left for the Denver Broncos after being on the 49ers' Super Bowl-winning coaching staff.
Twenty years later, Trestman is adopting a similar approach as he takes over from Kubiak and becomes the Ravens' fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. He is seeking continuity, not change.
"It's never going to be my offense. It's always going to be the Ravens' offense. I've been in this situation before on two or three occasions where there was a pre-existing coordinator and a very successful situation," Trestman said on a conference call Wednesday. "I think the framework and the formula for this is for me to go in and learn the offense and learn the nuances of the offense. The language is going to be similar, because Gary and I come out of the same training ground in terms of learning what people know as the West Coast offense.
"So, my idea would be, 'Why would I have 40-some guys learn a new offense when I'm just one person? Isn't it easier for me to learn it than to start over with everybody else, including coaches?' "
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Wednesday that Trestman's experience running a West Coast offense factored prominently in his decision to hire the former Chicago Bears coach as offensive coordinator. Trestman, who beat out Broncos' offensive coordinator Adam Gase for the position, agreed to a three-year deal.
In Kubiak's system, the Ravens set franchise records in points and yards this past season, and both quarterback Joe Flacco and the team's running game were revitalized. As he searched for a new play caller following Kubiak's departure to become the head coach of the Broncos, Harbaugh prioritized maintaining the offensive momentum, finding a scheme fit and hiring somebody who might stay a little while.
His last two offensive coordinators — Kubiak and Jim Caldwell — left after just one full season.
"The main thing is he's such a good fit for us going forward," Harbaugh said from Arizona, where he's coaching one of the Pro Bowl squads. "His experience level, his background in this offense, the fact that he can take us exactly from where we are, offensively, in terms of the terminology and the system that's in place and move it forward and build off of that, that was a determining factor."
Harbaugh spoke to Trestman on the phone on Sunday — the day Kubiak agreed to a deal to coach Denver — and then interviewed him in person in Baltimore on Monday. They didn't have a previous relationship, though Trestman was on the same Oakland Raiders' staff as Harbaugh's brother, Jim, and also coached Ravens general manager and Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome with the Cleveland Browns.
But Trestman's offensive credentials and extensive experience impressed Harbaugh, who has had four offensive coordinators during his tenure, and all of them have been former NFL head coaches. Before going 13-19 the past two seasons as coach of the Bears, Trestman, 59, had been the offensive coordinator for four NFL teams (Cleveland, San Francisco, Oakland and the Arizona Cardinals) and one college (North Carolina State).
"He's a great communicator; he's a very thoughtful guy. I like the way he thinks, I like the way his mind works. He kind of has a wide range of depth to his thinking, and I know that's going to mesh well with Joe [Flacco] and the way Joe thinks," Harbaugh said. "He's a great communicator. I do think he does take input, but most of the coaches we have around here in the past have done that. Gary was good at that, too, but I think Marc, that probably is one of his special qualities and something that makes him who he is."
Harbaugh said he spoke to Flacco during the hiring process and the quarterback was "on board, excited" about Trestman's hire. Harbaugh also added another experienced coach Wednesday with the hiring of former Detroit Lions head coach and long-time offensive assistant Marty Mornhinweg to coach quarterbacks.
Though he struggled to fix Jay Cutler in Chicago, Trestman has a reputation for making quarterbacks better — he once was nicknamed the "quarterback whisperer" — and leading high-powered offenses. In his 10 seasons as an NFL play-caller, Trestman's offenses ranked in top 5 in the NFL in total points four times.
However, if there has been a criticism of his play calling, it's that he doesn't run the ball enough. Trestman has had a top-10 rushing offense just once in 10 seasons, and that was in 1996 with the 49ers.
"I don't know what he's known as, or who knows him as what, but we have a way we want to play and we have a system in place," Harbaugh said. "We've been running the ball here for a long time. That has been our philosophy and our belief, and Marc understands that. Marc has run the ball at different places with a ton of success, too. I'm not worried about anybody's perception of the whole thing. I understand what kind of an offense we're going to be going forward and Marc believes in that, and we're ready to roll with that."
Both Harbaugh and Trestman, who vowed to work "within the framework of the offense," when he was asked about his tendency to get pass heavy, said that the team would stick with the zone-blocking scheme that worked so well last season.
"I think that in a lot of offenses, the zone scheme is where it all starts and certainly that's where it's going to start with the Ravens," Trestman said. "I've talked to Gary [Kubiak] over the years. It's essentially a zone-blocking system, but there are also other gap plays and trap plays and draw plays and other things that go in. But the platform, or the starting point, is certainly running the zone plays, and that's not going to change."
Trestman is due into Baltimore soon and will start reviewing tape of the Ravens, talking to players and formulating plans. A little more than three weeks after getting dismissed by the Bears, he's excited to be getting back to work again and preparing for another season.
"Quite honestly, I'm grateful to get myself to stay in the game. I'm certainly grateful and appreciative for what John has done," Trestman said. "I've never approached any job other than to show up each day and work as hard as I can to help the organization in a selfless manner. And really, I'm not even going to be thinking about anything but trying to get better every day and trying to help the team get better, and that's where my focus is."