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updated: 12/9/2013 11:25 PM

On Ditka Day, Bears' Trestman proves a point

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  • Bears coach Marc Trestman, who has worked wonders with backup quarterback Josh McCown, walks on the sidelines during the second half of Monday night's victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

      Bears coach Marc Trestman, who has worked wonders with backup quarterback Josh McCown, walks on the sidelines during the second half of Monday night's victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
    Associated Press

 
 

During his first training camp, Mike Ditka surveyed the field, sized up his team and shook his head.

"If you can accept defeat," Ditka said, "you're already defeated."

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The culture had to be changed, and Ditka went about changing it in a fashion that now seems perfectly Ditka, though at the time had many questioning the coach's sanity.

An early sign of the times was when star receiver James Scott showed up late for practice, and Ditka ordered Scott's equipment tossed in a garbage bag and dumped in a hallway.

Two years later the Bears won their division, and the year after that the Super Bowl. He coached like he played, insisting on effort and intensity, and for affecting the franchise in so many ways for so many years, he was rewarded Monday night with a jersey retirement, something decades overdue and entirely earned.

But his was a different era, and Ditka himself admits he couldn't coach today when a culture of coddling is not just accepted but actually expected.

In his own way, Marc Trestman is also trying to change the culture, asking Bears players to think more and waste emotion and energy less, but mostly he has brought the offense into the 21st century, a necessary evolution if the Bears are ever to compete for the big prize again in a league that rewards offense and discourages defense.

Yes, the Bears' defense has suffered in the process, but the offense showed its worth again in a 45-28 pounding of Dallas on Monday night at Soldier Field.

And while Trestman has made great progress turning Jay Cutler into a consistent NFL quarterback, the more amazing feat is what Trestman has done with Josh McCown, a career backup who was coaching high school two years ago.

Sure, it's a reach to think McCown's performance has convinced the Bears to go with him over Cutler. The Bears, after all, took apart the NFL's worst defense Monday and McCown nearly threw 3 interceptions against a gutless team that wanted nothing to do with the 10-below wind chill.

But McCown has been thoroughly efficient since replacing the injured Cutler, and it proves an important point. If Trestman can do this with McCown, who will be 35 next July and has accomplished so little in his career up until now, what might Trestman be able to do with a replacement-level, free-agent QB, or a quarterback selected in the draft?

At the very least, it gives the Bears leverage in contract negotiations with Cutler, and at most gives them reason to believe that Trestman can do just as well with whomever the Bears choose to play quarterback next year or the year after that -- if they can't come to terms with Cutler.

The most likely scenario still has the Bears tagging Cutler or signing him long term, and Trestman is too pragmatic to believe McCown has the ability or arm of Cutler, but it does give Phil Emery reason to think Trestman can work his magic with just about anyone.

In the meantime, both sides will posture and negotiate publicly, with the Bears saying the franchise tag is financially unfeasible, and Cutler's side leaking stories about other teams' interest.

It's just part of the process.

On Monday night, however, as Tony Romo played the part of often-discarded journeyman and McCown looked more the $100 million QB with Hall of Fame potential, all it did was strengthen the Bears' position and force Cutler to question his.

And it was another reminder that Trestman is smarter than you think.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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