From would-be lawyer to ex-coach, Ravens coordinator Marc Trestman has learned his lessons

Former Bears coach and new Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman speaks to reporters in March.
Former Bears coach and new Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman speaks to reporters in March. (Rob Foldy / USA TODAY Sports)

If Marc Trestman had listened to Howard Schnellenberger, he might not have started on the path that has led him into 11 NFL cities and two college campuses, and that took him to Canada to realize a lifelong goal.

He might not have been hired by football luminaries such as Bud Grant, George Seifert and Jon Gruden or been fired eight times. He might not have gotten the nickname "The Quarterback Whisperer" for his work with record-setting passers such as Steve Young, Bernie Kosar and Anthony Calvillo.


"After he graduated, he turned down the best law firm in South Florida to get a coaching job," said Schnellenberger, then the University of Miami football coach. "I put him off for a long time, but I thought, 'Damn, anybody that is going to be that persistent, I'm going to give him a chance.' And I'm glad I did. We don't win the national championship without him as our quarterbacks coach."

Trestman has passed the bar exam, sold municipal bonds, and written a book on leadership and perseverance, but the 59-year-old, with a professorial appearance and a philosopher's vocabulary, always has found his way back to the sideline, which is where he'll be again next season as the Ravens' offensive coordinator.


"I'm just a guy who loves to coach football, and I certainly enjoy the connection I have with quarterbacks and working with quarterbacks and the entire offense," Trestman said Wednesday, a day after Ravens coach John Harbaugh named him the successor to Gary Kubiak. "I can tell you I'm greatly appreciative and feel very humbled to have the opportunity to be a part of the Ravens organization."

In 1985, at the age of 29, Trestman got his first NFL job, hired by Grant, the legendary Minnesota Vikings coach, to work with the team's running backs. Four years later, he became the youngest offensive coordinator in the league, selected by Art Modell to direct a Cleveland Browns offense that featured current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

An head coaching opportunity in the NFL seemed imminent, but Trestman waited nearly three decades, and spent five highly successful seasons coaching the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, before that opportunity finally came.

Trestman's tenure as head coach of the Chicago Bears started Jan. 16, 2013, and ended Dec. 29, 2014. After just 23 months, a blip for a football lifer, the role Trestman had coveted for so long was gone. But it took all of four weeks for Trestman to do what he has throughout his nomadic career: move on and embrace a new opportunity, this one with the Ravens.


"I think he's at a place where he's comfortable with Marc Trestman," said longtime NFL quarterback Scott Mitchell, who had one of his best seasons with the Detroit Lions in 1997, when Trestman was his position coach.

Mitchell called Trestman the best coach he's had.

"The football environment is so competitive. As a player and as a coach, you're really driven to succeed," Mitchell said. "When things don't work out, it can really break you down and tear you apart. You have to be in a good place emotionally and mentally to deal with that, and I think that's where Marc is. He knows why he coaches and I know he's really at peace with where he is in his career."

Early success ...

In naming him offensive coordinator, Harbaugh cited Trestman's "broad" experience. Trestman doesn't spend much time speaking publicly about the great football minds he's worked with and the jobs he's had and lost.

But you can't coach alongside Grant, Seifert, Gruden, Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll or back up Super Bowl-winning Tony Dungy at Minnesota without picking up droves of football knowledge along the way.

"The five years he was with us, I can't recall him mentioning one story about the National Football League — not one," said Calvillo, the former Alouettes quarterback and CFL's all-time leading passer. "He's a very humble person. He's absorbed all of that, and he continues to grow as a coach."

In 34 years as a coach, there have been two near-constants for Trestman: offensive success and change, the latter occurring despite the former. With Trestman as his position coach, Kosar established school records at Miami and led the Hurricanes to the 1983 national title. The partnership worked so well that the Browns hired Trestman to coach Kosar four years later.

Among Trestman's other coaching success stories: the San Francisco 49ers, behind Young, led the NFL in points and passing yards in 1995; the 1998 Arizona Cardinals, quarterbacked by Jake Plummer, won a postseason game for the first time in 51 years; in 2002, the Oakland Raiders rode the league's most prolific offense and eventual NFL Most Valuable Player Rich Gannon to the Super Bowl; and the Alouettes won back-to-back Grey Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, with Calvillo named the league's MVP in both years.

Although the Bears were a disaster in 2014, they had the NFL's second-highest scoring offense the previous season under Trestman despite starting journeyman quarterback Josh McCown for five games.

... and much change

From his younger days, when he was a multisport athlete from the St. Louis Park, Minn., area Trestman was always on the move. Even as a student at the Miami School of Law and a court clerk, Trestman found time to be a volunteer football coach.

Until he got to Montreal, he never had called one city his coaching home for more than three years. In 10 of his stops, he has occupied a full-time coaching position for two seasons or less.

"In the National Football League, you're not in control of your own destiny," said Schnellenberger, the former Baltimore Colts head coach whose coaching career spanned seven decades. "The only one you have to be concerned about is your boss. If your head coach gets let go, you get let go. But he's a football man. He exemplifies that as much or more as anybody else."

On five occasions, Trestman was dismissed with an entire coaching staff. There were times when he got better job offers elsewhere. There were instances when Trestman wore out his welcome, his strong personality — his wife, Cindy, playfully described him as "socially dysfunctional" in Trestman's autobiography — alienating him from key decision makers.

His strained relationship with former Browns head coach Bud Carson was well documented, and the Browns fired Trestman in early 1990 on his wedding day. His one season as the Miami Dolphins' assistant head coach under Dave Wannstedt in 2004 also was rife with staff tumult. Trestman has accepted accountability for some of his earlier problems.

"I was never belligerent, malicious or mean-spirited in anything I did," he told the Chicago Tribune in 2013. "I was just not paying attention very well to what was going on around me."

Finding a home up north


Alouettes general manager Jim Popp got to know Trestman in the late 1990s, when he'd visit his father, Joe Popp, then a Browns assistant. In 2007, both men were looking for something, though Trestman wasn't necessarily sure what it was.


He recently had been fired, along with the rest of Chuck Amato's staff, after a two-year stint as offensive coordinator at North Carolina State. This one hit Trestman particularly hard, especially after his family, which included his two young daughters, had made Raleigh home.

Popp, meanwhile, needed a coach, somebody who would wring more good years out of Calvillo, Montreal's already accomplished quarterback. Trestman immediately came to mind.

"He came in for an interview, and Marc flat-out told the owner and the president, 'I'm only here because [of] my friend Jim Popp. I don't even know if I'm interested in the job,' " said Popp, formerly the general manager of the Baltimore Stallions. "But he came in and blew everybody away."

It isn't clear what spurred Trestman to accept the Alouettes' coaching job. Maybe the opportunity to run the show after 27 years as an assistant was too great to pass up. Maybe his relationship with Popp, a man he liked and trusted, was the deciding factor. Or maybe the decision traced to an epiphany he had at some point at N.C. State.

His friends noticed he started to enjoy coaching more. He stopped worrying about the head coaching jobs he couldn't get and obsessing over X's and O's. He became consumed by getting to know his players and affecting their lives.

"He had an epiphany of who he is and why he was doing what he was doing," Mitchell said. "He's doing it for the right reasons, and he feels really good about it."

Success in Montreal was immediate, but Trestman was just as proud of the relationships he built with his players and the team culture established in the locker room.

"I think all the experiences that he had working with great coaches and quarterbacks, he had a chance in some degree to reinvent himself," Popp said. "Everybody has that moment in life. He's the only one that can answer it, but he had a lot of time to reflect on his career, what he's done, what he hasn't done. He probably thought he'd never be a head coach. It was a real leap of faith for him to do what he did."

Getting to know Joe

Trestman is a deep thinker and a man of many interests. He'll comfortably speak on a variety of subjects, including philosophy, religion (he is Jewish), real estate, music and business. The last two should come as no surprise, as Trestman was in a band when he was younger and took a hiatus from coaching in the early- to mid-1990s to be a bond broker.

But when asked how his past coaching experiences have shaped him and how he's evolved as a coach, Trestman conceded that he didn't really know how to answer.

"That's a good question, part of which I can answer, part of it I can't," he said. "I just think that experience means a lot. I've seen it done a lot of different ways, been with a lot of different types of guys. So I embrace the opportunity to work with different guys and their different personalities, and how they work and what's important in trying to get better. I'm excited about that."

Trestman was at the Ravens' facility Thursday, and one of his first orders of business will be getting to know quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be working with his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Trestman once called the relationship between the quarterback and coach "the No. 1 marriage in sports."

Those who have played the position under him describe Trestman as detailed and demanding, but also reassuring and supportive.

"When you went into a game, there was no second-guessing yourself," Calvillo said. "You knew what your drop was going to be. You know what your read was going to be. You had total confidence in the blocking scheme. You just went out there and played. He'd challenge you as a quarterback, but the good thing was, he was always going to be open-minded. He shows faith in you."

Mitchell, who started two games for the Ravens in 1999, said he was shocked Trestman didn't get more out of enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler. Still, he expects Flacco to flourish under his old coach, as long as the Ravens quarterback is willing to buy in.

"Marc is a very cerebral guy," Mitchell said. "You kind of look at him and say, 'This guy needs to be a professor or something like that.' From an appearance standpoint, he's not what you'd necessarily look at as a typical football guy. But his mind, his work ethic and his ability to work with people, he's incredible. I think Baltimore is going to get the best Marc Trestman."