Trestman Slowly Changing The Bears' Historic Team Mentality
By Paul Kakert
Whether it be through the NFL draft, free agency or making changes to the coaching staff, each team crafts its personality just as importantly as it does its talent pool. If you don’t think a team’s personality is important, you are sorely mistaken. For example, let’s take a quick look at the personality change taking place right now for the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are historically branded as the "Monsters of the Midway". Their success in the past supported that label with players who exemplified that mantra both on and off the field. The iconic poster boy for ferocious play on the defensive side of the ball was LB Dick Butkus, followed closely by numerous punishing hitters from the 1980s, including fellow LBs Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson and DL Dan Hampton. On offense, Mike Ditka — nicknamed "Iron Mike" — is still an icon, both as an individual who personified his tough-minded team by playing the tight end position with a reckless abandon that redefined the position and as a head coach.
Off the field, Chicago was equally monstrous when it came to the personalities that shaped the most storied group in franchise history: the 1985 team. Love him or hate him, QB Jim McMahon had a larger-than-life personality and was truly the only viable candidate to lead the Bears under coach Ditka. Ditka ruled with an iron fist, and McMahon was the type of player to publicly buck the system and consistently get under the skin of his coach. The team was outrageous in its style of play and embodied the personalities of its key players. The defense thrived on brutal play, the offense had fun performing in the shadow of its overwhelming defense, and the fiery coach prowled the sidelines on game day, scowling at players and officials alike. This was a formula that largely worked.
Fitting within the historical personality of a team is all well and good — when it works. But as fans witnessed in 2013, there are changes being made under the watch of new head coach Marc Trestman that may be reshaping the personality of an entire franchise, at least for the foreseeable future. Last year's campaign found the Bears about as far removed from their "monsters" mantra as possible, especially on defense. Ranking near the bottom of the league in just about every important category, the team lacked monstrous play and monstrous personalities. Attrition and injury played a large part in the demise of the defense as a whole, but when you take a look at what Trestman and GM Phil Emery are building through free agency and the draft, you can see a new personality emerging. Trestman's Bears appear to be more about precision and execution than raw, unbridled emotion and intimidation. If the high-ranking offense continues to improve its near league-leading performance of 2013 and the defense is able to improve at all, the new personality of the Bears may just be a big hit this upcoming season.
Trestman is as calm and businesslike on the sidelines as he is in his pre- and post-game interviews. Almost Belichick-like, the second-year head coach is a leader with a plan that he is implementing with precision and professionalism but one who is void of any hint of emotion. There is no telling what fire and brimstone may rise up in team meetings outside the public eye, but so far, what you see is what you get with Trestman. That personality is carrying over to the playing field. The offense as a group has taken over as the most visible and monstrous element of the Trestman era in Chicago. As witnessed during the 2013 season, the offense can impose its will against opposing defenses with relative ease. The Trestman plan does not appear overly flashy or ground breaking, but it is highly efficient and effective.
At quarterback, the Bears have another "love him or hate him" leader in Jay Cutler. Say what you will about his perceived pouty attitude or unfortunate history of injuries, Cutler is Trestman-like in his methodical and mostly unemotional approach to the game. When healthy last season, he performed well and appears to be on board with Trestman's offensive plan — an element that was lacking between Cutler and former head coach Lovie Smith.
There’s also no denying the positive addition of WR Brandon Marshall to the mix, who seems to have overcome his off-the-field challenges of past seasons and is all about the team in Chicago. His role as a mentor to emerging star Alshon Jeffery paid off big in 2013, and this year, perhaps his work with second-year receiver Marquess Wilson will pay equal dividends.
Will this personality shift that places performance over intimidation continue in 2014 and show that the new way in Chicago is the Trestman way? Only time will tell.