Chicago Takes Charge
Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler are taking the lead in establishing an ethical culture in Chicago's locker room. Plus, a new Dr. Z award, 10 things I think and my annual Father's Day book recommendations
SALISBURY, N.C. — Notes from the last pre-vacation MMQB—including Marc Trestman the people person, Jay Cutler the leader, and the first annual “Paul ‘Dr. Z’ Awards” by the Pro Football Writers of America—on the eve of tonight’s 55th annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Awards ceremony in this real-life Mayberry.
Good news, Bears
Lots of talk about locker-room culture these days, and lots of energy spent by teams trying to ensure there’s never another Dolphins/Incognito affair. But I give special points to Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler for their efforts. And I’m learning more and more about how wrong we were that Trestman was some X’s-and-O’s monk who couldn’t deal with players on a human scale. That’s one of the most misleading assumptions in recent NFL years.
Another example: Trestman and Cutler recently flew to New York to meet with the league’s new values-meister, Dov Seidman, to exchange ideas about fostering a more ethical culture in the locker room. I’ve heard of players and coaches working on football in the off-season, and maybe even on better forms of leadership. But for a coach and his top lieutenant in the locker room—who has never been considered a classic locker-room leader—to get on a plane and spend a day working on new techniques and dialog … that goes beyond the call of duty. Trestman and Cutler should be congratulated for it.
“I got a tremendous start in the way a locker room was run when I coached for five years in Canada,” said Trestman, whose first head-coaching job was with Montreal of the CFL. “In our locker room, everyone should feel safe. For some of the guys in Chicago, it was kind of new to them. There’d be no hazing. Lovie Smith had a great group of players—a great group—and he did a great job with them. There were some subtle things I wanted to add. I wanted to keep growing.”
Trestman didn’t want to be specific about what he, Cutler and Seidman discussed, other than to say he “wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing.” Seidman wouldn’t confirm the meeting, but it’s clear from a pro football source that they bonded and had a discussion Trestman and Cutler will use as a building block in their locker room.
Seidman, CEO of the LRN Company, which works with businesses to stress principled performance, addressed club and league officials at the annual meeting in March, and has remained an adviser to the league. He’s bullish on the impact of the one-hour meetings for all 32 full squads this month (I wrote about this last Monday), to kick off discussion of culture change. “You don’t just flip a switch on something like this,” Seidman said. “It’s about a journey. It’s about progress. I think teams are figuring out there’s a new way to win, and that includes caring for the player as a person, a father and a husband. Creating a locker room full of people who can be themselves can help you win.”
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One of the best gestures I’ve seen in a long time.
A couple of times a year, a few us get together for lunch in New Jersey with Paul Zimmerman and his wife, Linda. Paul, as most of you know, was felled by a series of strokes in November 2008, and he remains unable to speak substantively or write. Last Wednesday we invited Ken Rodgers, who wrote and produced the tremendous Dr. Z tribute piece for NFL Films last fall, “Yours truly, Dr. Z,” to the meal. The piece won a Sports Emmy for “The Dick Schaap Outstanding Writing Award.”
Rodgers came to lunch and brought with him an Emmy—for Paul. The gold statuette sat on the table in front of Paul throughout the meal. He beamed. Rodgers choked up a couple of times talking about Zim and the experience of doing this wonderful story. “My favorite moment,” said Rodgers at one point, “was listening to an old interview of Paul with him in the room, and thinking how emotional it would probably make him, and I look at him, and he’s rolling his eyes as if to say, ‘Blah, blah, blah. Just shut up, will you?’ ”
A very good lunch, with good company, including Matt Millen and wife Pat—who are regulars at these affairs, with my wife Ann and me, and Linda’s friend Barbara. And the Flaming Redhead, of course. “Geez,’’ said Linda. “What to say about Ken … He certainly is carrying on the Steve Sabol tradition. We were heartbroken by the passing of Steve, but Ken certainly channels his spirit and intelligence. We’ve made a lifetime friend.”
Now, speaking of Dr. Z …