Where Should Marc Trestman Be an Offensive Coordinator?
It’s a winding tale, the story of Marc Trestman’s love affair with the NFL: full of twists and turns, amazing triumphs and crushed hopes, but never quite giving satisfaction with the conclusion of each new chapter. Over his nearly 25 years coaching in professional football, Trestman has engineered major success and suffered massive defeat. With plenty of stops over the course of his pro football career, though, one thing that can be said is that this maligned offensive guru has never found stability in the league.
Now, having reached the highest point in his NFL career as head coach of the Chicago Bears, Trestman enters the 2014-15 offseason jobless after only two seasons at the helm of a franchise.
It’s true that his time with Chicago was less than stellar, as his Bears won just 13 of their 32 games under him, but surely Marc Trestman deserves another chance to coach in the league. There hasn’t been any word of considering him for another head coaching gig, but his reputation as an offensive mastermind is strong. Does this reputation hold up under scrutiny? And if so, where should Trestman –- the “quarterback whisperer” –- land as an offensive coordinator in 2015?
A Coordinator Scorned: Trestman’s Teams
It really takes the right time and right place to find a good fit, and sometimes even when that all clicks, things eventually fall apart. I’m of course describing the fit between a football team and its coaching staff, and Trestman has seen the short end of that relationship stick a few too many times in his career. The positives? He’s held five different coaching titles in his tenure in the NFL, displaying an immense amount of versatility and knowledge of the offensive game.
The negatives? Friction with numerous head coaches and unsustained offensive statistics of his teams led to a lot of career instability. Now, we can’t quantify the relationships Trestman had with his superiors on teams, but we can look at how the teams he was with performed in a much more in depth manner than box score scouting. Through the lens of numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP), we’ll take a look to see if Trestman was a career gimmick or if he truly worked magic with his offenses. NEP is a measure not just of production, but how that production affects a team’s chances of scoring points. How good were Trestman’s teams?
The table below shows the NEP data for the teams that Trestman was an offensive coordinator or head coach for (the offensive playcaller). Was he as successful as his reputation proclaims?
|Year||Team||Role||Adj. NEP Rank||Adj. Pass NEP Rank||Adj. Rush NEP Rank|
What becomes very clear very quickly is that there is not a lot of continued success in the results of Trestman’s offenses over history. He’s helmed two top-three offenses in his time, but also been responsible for two bottom-five ranked offenses as well. For a coach whose main selling point is the passing game, as well, four out of seven passing attacks ranking in the bottom-third of the league just doesn’t seem to cut it.
We’d like to get a full picture of Trestman’s effect, though, which means we also should examine how each of his teams performed before and after he was with them. The table below depicts the average NEP production of each offense before, during, and after Trestman’s tenure with these teams.
|Tenure||Avg. Adj. NEP||Avg. Rank||Avg. Adj. Pass NEP||Avg. Rank||Avg. Adj. Rush NEP||Avg. Rank|
We can see from a simple glance from top to bottom in each column that the NEP production from each of these categories was already on a downward trajectory when Trestman arrived at these teams. In fact, that’s likely why someone with his reputation of being a “player mechanic” would gain so much consideration for a coaching job -- the idea that one coach could dam the leak for an inexplicably bad offense is a tantalizing one for team management. Even if we remove his stint as an assistant head coach with Miami in 2004 from the equation, the results actually become more pronounced, and the NEP fall greater.
The proof is pretty clear: if Trestman has had any sort of overarching effect on an offense in his career, it was merely to staunch the bleeding of –- not fix -– poorly-built and quickly crumbling rosters. In fact, the only team that actually improved during his tenure with it? The one he was just fired from, the Chicago Bears, who ranked 22nd in the league in Adjusted NEP in 2012, rose to 9th in the metric in 2013, and then finished at 21st in 2014 (average of 15th during Trestman’s tenure). Yet this was not enough to save his job, and his offensive guru status seems to have been debunked.
Dating History: Quarterback Whisperer or Not?
What about Trestman’s ability to coach up quarterbacks, though? A former college passer from my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, Trestman’s primary job throughout his career has been to stabilize and maximize a team’s passing attack. But is this “quarterback whisperer” speaking in the right tone of voice, or should he be more of a “quarterback yeller”?
The table below also displays the NEP production before, during, and after Trestman’s tenures, but here we are going to specifically look at the quarterbacks’ production. If that’s his specialty, we should see a noted uptick in the production of lead quarterbacks once they begin working with Trestman, and possibly even a diminishing once he leaves. What do we find?
|Tenure||Avg. Passes||Avg. Pass NEP||Avg. Pass NEP per Play||Avg. Pass Success%||Avg. Total NEP|
It seems that the value of the quarterback in the passing game was indeed at its highest during the Trestman eras for these teams, but he only boosted their Passing NEP production by about 3.5 expected points on average over the course of a season; about half of a touchdown. What’s more, when we look at Passing NEP on a per drop back basis, we see that it remained static from before Trestman’s arrival through his stay, indicating that the only reason for increased value in the passing game is an increased number of drop backs (average increase of 90 drop backs a season). This is fairly damning, however, as both raw and per drop back Passing NEP drop off sharply after the Trestman tenures on average. This indicates that Trestman’s presence was only able to garner a slight increase in value, but the pieces he put into place fell apart significantly later on. If true, this would be very much in line with his rumored “unsustainable production” that we discussed earlier on.
Indeed, the average Total NEP (Rushing NEP added to Passing NEP) of his signal-callers would seem to confirm the tale told by his team Adjusted NEP scores: Trestman’s time with these teams was merely a pit stop on a downward spiral; nothing more, nothing less.
Finding the Right Partner
This isn't to say that Trestman has no talent as an offensive coordinator. In fact, this is the furthest thing from that statement -- I believe that these teams would likely have spiraled downward much more quickly without Trestman’s hand at the helm. Look at the Chicago Bears in the last few years. Jay Cutler’s Passing NEP in 2012 was -9.88, good for a paltry 27th in the league among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. In 2013, however, Trestman finagled a Passing NEP performance (101.33) out of the combined efforts of Cutler and Josh McCown that would have ranked fifth in the NFL if they were one passer. Even Cutler’s much-maligned 2014 was, in fact, an improvement over his 2012 (-1.24 Passing NEP).
This study simply intends to debunk the idea that Trestman is a magical salve for a team’s offensive woes. Give him a quarterback with talent who hasn’t figured out how to unlock it, and he’ll give him the key. Give him a pile of hot garbage (2004 Dolphins, here’s looking at you), and he’ll fail miserably.
With that in mind, which coaching vacancies make the most sense for our lovelorn hero? The most-discussed landing spot and odds-on favorite is the offensive coordinator position in Tampa Bay, where Trestman would be reunited with his most recent reclamation project in McCown, another talent who has faltered in Mike Glennon, and possibly rookie Marcus Mariota. This would be an exciting place, with plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal and talented passers just needing to be developed. However, Jacksonville also recently fired offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, and the opportunity to fix Blake Bortles’ whacked-out mechanics in order to unleash his athletic talent might be tempting.
The best spot for him might be to wait out the head coach hiring, as offensive coordinators are in demand all over: the Patriots’ Josh McDaniels, Broncos’ Adam Gase, Colts’ Pep Hamilton, Seahawks’ Darrell Bevell, and many others have interviews in the coming weeks. Where I would love to see him the most, though? Either of the top two openings, or -– as a dark horse option if Browns’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is hired away -– in Cleveland working to make Johnny Manziel a terror on the NFL field. That, for me, would be love at first sight all over again.