September 28, 2010
One interesting element of the CFL is that the highest levels of success sometimes lead to leaving the league. Time and time again, we've seen players try to convert their CFL success into NFL jobs. Some, like Cameron Wake, Jeff Garcia and Doug Flutie, have been able to pull that transition off; others, like Henry Burris, Ricky Ray and Ricky Foley, have been less successful south of the border and returned up north. Now, if St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Charley Walters is to be believed, we might see Montreal Alouettes' coach Marc Trestman (pictured above instructing quarterback Chris Leak during an Aug. 14 game) attempt a similar transition to leading the NCAA's Minnesota Golden Gophers.
That piece comes with several large caveats, however. First, the Gophers do still have a head coach in Tim Brewster. Yes, Dr. Saturday's Matt Hinton suggested before this NCAA season started that Brewster might be a "dead coach walking" given his team's past failures, and the Gophers' 1-3 record certainly hasn't helped on that front. Their loss to FCS (former Division I-AA) school South Dakota prompted SB Nation's Spencer Hall to comment that Brewster "is so fired they should hold two press conferences just to fire him". Despite all that, it's important for the moment just to remember that this is pure speculation about a job that isn't even currently open.
Furthermore, even if Brewster is fired, Walters is mostly talking about the chance that the Gophers would target former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. Dungy is more notable these days for being a profanity-despising NBC talking head that Andrew Sharp labeled "the most annoying human in pro football", and it's unclear if he'd even want to get back into coaching after retiring from it in 2009, but he is a former Gophers' quarterback (who, oddly enough, roomed with current Washington Wizards' head coach Flip Saunders while he was at Minnesota). Dungy certainly has plenty of coaching credentials, NFL and NCAA experience, and even a Super Bowl ring; if he wants the Minnesota job, he could probably get it.
It's also worth keeping in mind Walters' reliability. I'm not familiar with his work, but SB Nation Minnesota's Ted Glover is, and he isn't exactly complimentary in his piece referencing this story:
"Okay, I get it. It's Charley Walters. His ‘little birdies' have been pooping crappy stories for the St. Paul Pioneer Press since before I was born, because they're just usually his musings of what he'd like to see happen...like him wanting the Vikings to sign Chris Weinke a few years back."
This isn't the greatest job in the world, either. Yes, the Gophers play in the prestigious (and increasingly inaccurately named) Big Ten, but it's a strong conference that's about to get even better next year with the addition of a 12th team, Nebraska. Unlike the CFL, where teams are largely working with the same resources and have the same methods of obtaining players, NCAA football favours the strong. So much of it is about recruiting, and the nature of recruiting means strong programs tend to get stronger and weak ones tend to fall off the map. The Gophers have a solid football history, but they're in a conference with plenty of prestigious teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. All of those teams (and most of the other ones in the conference) have also been more competitive in recent years than Minnesota, so whoever's leading the Gophers will have a tough uphill battle on their hands.
Finally, Trestman has also attracted significant NFL interest in the past, so it's not like this would be the only job out there for him. Any NFL job is usually seen as far more prestigious than all but the very top college jobs, and most of Trestman's coaching experience is at the pro level; the NFL also offers much more of a level playing field than college football. A move there would seem even more logical, but Trestman turned that interest down by signing a contract extension with Montreal through 2012, so it's not like he's desperate to get out of town either.
Despite all that, this rumour can't just be completely shot down out of hand. For one thing, Brewster (pictured, right) seems all but gone, and it's a departure that would be welcomed by many, with over 13,000 of 15,000 local poll respondents saying he should be dismissed by at least the end of the season. If the job does come open, it may not be the best coaching gig in the world, but it's far from the worst; Minnesota does have a proud football tradition, they play in a prestigious conference (which receives tremendous national exposure thanks to the Big Ten Network), and whoever the new coach winds up being will likely have several years to turn things around. College football works in multi-year recruiting cycles, so coaches are generally given more time to right the ship than they are in professional football. That could be an attractive component of this job that wouldn't have been present with the NFL's Bills or Raiders: both teams have front-office situations that could be charitably described as chaotic, so there's not a lot of job security there.
Perhaps the most important factor could be the money issue. Walters' piece states that Minnesota could likely offer close to triple his current salary of an estimated $400,000 annually. When you throw in the call of the alma mater and the chance to return to his roots in Minneapolis (he grew up there and attended high school locally, as well as university), this could be an appealing move for Trestman. It could be an appealing move for the Gophers, too; they may have trouble looking for high-profile NCAA coaches thanks to their recent struggles, so an unconventional hire of an alumnus who's found great success at the CFL level could make a lot of sense.
It's not like CFL coaches have never made the transition to four-down football, either. One of the most successful ones was Bud Grant, who led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 10 years before taking over the Minnesota Vikings and leading them to four Super Bowl games. Trestman wouldn't be the first Alouettes coach to make the jump south of the border, either; Marv Levy famously went from coaching Montreal to leading the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. More recently, head coach Kent Austin left the Saskatchewan Roughriders after winning the 2007 Grey Cup to take over as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss; he's now the head coach at Cornell. Not all coaches can move between leagues easily, but some have found great success doing so.
As stated above, this is anything but a done deal. There are plenty of factors that would have to fall into place for this even to be a possibility: Minnesota would have to fire Brewster, they would then have to decide that Trestman represented the best possible option out there, they'd have to convince him to leave Montreal and they'd have to work out a deal to get him out of his contract with the Alouettes. However, there are also enough things in favour of this proposal that it can't be dismissed out of hand. It's going to be a storyline to watch in the coming weeks and month.