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BORN to coach quarterbacks

Former Als' coach Trestman now working magic with Bears' Cutler

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During meetings in 1975 inside the Bierman Building on the University of Minnesota campus, Golden Gopher quarterbacks Tony Dungy and Marc Trestman hung on offensive co-ordinator Tom Moore's every word.

Dungy was the established starter who led the Big Ten in several passing categories that season but Trestman, his backup, prepared mentally like a guy expecting to take every snap. The football gospel according to Moore revolved around the idea -- innovative at the time -- of calling four plays in the huddle and running the one the defence dictated.

"Marc was a good student of Tom Moore and soaked up everything," Dungy said Friday in an interview. "He loved it. You could see he was pretty driven."

Trestman closely followed the example of Dungy, his roommate for Minnesota road games. In Trestman's book Perseverance he described Dungy as a "gym rat" whose quiet confidence complemented an uncanny work ethic. Coaches trusted Dungy with keys to the football office. Moore, who later became one of the brightest NFL offensive minds of his generation, used to show up for work at 6:30 a.m. to find Dungy waiting to watch film before class -- leadership that resonated with younger teammates like Trestman. A lasting impression formed.

On the day the Bears hired Trestman last January, he referenced those days without getting specific.

"The No. 1 marriage in sports is the marriage between the quarterback and the coach," Trestman said. "Everything proceeds from there."

Examples in Trestman's circuitous career first came to mind; his rapport with Bernie Kosar in Miami or Rich Gannon in Oakland or Scott Mitchell in Detroit or Anthony Calvillo in Montreal. But the philosophy on quarterbacks Trestman brought to Chicago took root as a Minnesota sophomore observing the compatibility between Moore and Dungy during the 1975-76 seasons. Dungy later provided more proof by beating the Bears in Super Bowl XLI thanks to the partnership of Moore, his Colts offensive co-ordinator, and quarterback Peyton Manning.

As the Bears venture today into Heinz Field, Dungy knows how much Trestman still lives by that coaching credo after watching Jay Cutler stage two straight fourth-quarter rallies. Dungy didn't need to hear Trestman brag about Cutler being the first player to Halas Hall and the last to leave as evidence of the quarterback embracing the new regime. He could see signs of what would be one of the Bears' biggest breakthroughs since the T-formation.

The way Cutler and Trestman have clicked represents the way Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley hope to, a contrast that makes the nationally televised matchup even more compelling.

"Jay always was talented but the sense I got was he always thought he had to do everything for his team to win," said Dungy, now an NBC Sports analyst. "What I'm seeing is a guy realizing he doesn't."

If Trestman keeps connecting well enough that Cutler accepts sometimes less is more, he will succeed where previous Bears coaches failed. A close friend of Lovie Smith, Dungy realizes Cutler's history but his knowledge of Trestman's past makes him optimistic change in Cutler can last.

The former college teammates reconnected after years of casual exchanges after the Colts' Super Bowl in 2007 when Trestman faced a well-documented career crisis. So much had changed since their younger days when the two introspective souls finally caught up but, regardless of where they were in their respective lives, they quickly found common ground.

"We talked about how to proceed, about letting the Lord direct things and not worry about what happens and do what's best for your family," Dungy said. "At one point he accepted maybe being an NFL head coach isn't going to happen and, if it didn't, he wasn't going to be a wreck. That's the peace of mind Marc achieved."

The serenity Dungy senses in his friend occasionally gets interpreted as standoffishness, creating a perception Trestman could struggle commanding a locker-room. Asked about those potential difficulties, Dungy recalled being a 49ers defensive back for a professorial first-time NFL head coach in 1979.

"I remember people saying the same thing about Bill Walsh," Dungy said. "The same question was asked about Lovie and will be asked about any coach who isn't necessarily what people think he's supposed to be. Football players want to be good and will respond to that more than anything. I don't think it's as big a challenge as people think."

It poses the kind of challenge Trestman and Dungy, both 57, once only dreamed of conquering as NFL coaches.

For Trestman, it continues to open doors full of possibility.

-- Chicago Tribune

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2013 B7

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