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Kevin Schnepf, Published January 16 2013

Schnepf: Former MSUM coach believes Trestman is right fit for Chicago

FARGO - When news officially broke at 4 a.m. Wednesday that the Chicago Bears named Marc Trestman as their new head coach, you could probably hear this question bouncing off the skyscrapers of the Windy City: “Marc who?”

Evidently, there are some Bears fans who seem to know more about Trestman’s 19- and 21-year-old daughters than the coach who was hired to get the most out of quarterback Jay Cutler.

One Bears blogger wrote:

“If coach Trestman can make Jay Cutler’s mechanics look anywhere nearly as scintillating as his daughters, the Bears will be closing down Michigan Ave. for a championship parade in no time. Gotta say this hire is looking better and better by the minute.”

Now that’s creepy.

If these Bears’ fans want to know more about Trestman the coach, they should just give former Minnesota State Moorhead football coach Ross Fortier a call. Even though Fortier coached Trestman for only one season in 1978, they have maintained a relationship to this day.

In fact, there was a stage in Trestman’s vagabond coaching career when Fortier advised him to continue pursuing a career in law.

“Thankfully, he didn’t do it,” Fortier said Wednesday from his home in Merritt Island, Fla. “The coaching thing has worked out well for him.”

This coaching thing may have taken awhile, but the 57-year-old Trestman now officially becomes the first former MSUM player to become a head coach in the NFL. He also becomes one of the few Canadian Football League coaches to become a head coach in the NFL.

That’s where Trestman fled to five years ago, after once being a hot NFL coaching candidate only to suffer one rejection after another. He leaves his CFL head coaching job for the Montreal Alouettes, where he won two Grey Cup titles.

“I know it’s tough for him to leave Montreal,” Fortier said. “I know he was very appreciative of his owner in Montreal, because he took a chance on him.”

Now, the Bears are taking a chance on Trestman, whose run as an NFL assistant began in 1985 – when Cutler was 2 years old – and ended around 2002. He earned a reputation for molding quarterbacks as an offensive coordinator at Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona and Oakland.

He helped groom Bernie Kosar at the University of Miami. In recent years, he helped develop quarterbacks entering the league – including Cutler. He still gets praise from former NFL quarterbacks he worked with like Rich Gannon and Steve Young.

“This is going to be a great hire,” Young was quoted as saying, emphasizing that Trestman is the type of coach Cutler needs.

Fortier said Trestman doesn’t fit the mold of your typical NFL coach, something he witnessed twice when he stood on the sidelines with Trestman when his Alouettes played games in Winnipeg.

“In both games I’ve seen, he outcoached his opponent at the beginning of each half,” said Fortier, MSUM’s all-time winningest coach who compiled a 152-80-4 record from 1970 to 1992. “He’s very calm and very organized. He doesn’t panic.

“He’s not a hollerer. He motivates by reasoning. He’s a real cerebral type of coach.”

Intellectual enough that he authored a book titled “Perseverance: Life Lessons on Leadership and Teamwork.” It prompted Bears receiver Brandon Marshall to tweet Wednesday: “Reading his book now … can’t wait to follow his lead.”

And Fortier can’t wait to see how his former quarterback will do as a head coach in the NFL. It seems so long ago when Trestman transferred from the University of Minnesota to MSUM in 1978, starting five games.

“He didn’t have a lot of natural skills,” Fortier said of Trestman. “But I think a lot of the best coaches are the ones who don’t have the greatest skills because they watch, learn and develop.

“Marc still remembers what it takes for some people to learn and do better. I think he’s certainly ready for this kind of job. It’s just nice to see he will finally be able to get the chance.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com