Marc Trestman knows quarterbacks, but he’s also got a keen eye for coaching talent.
Shortly after becoming the Montreal Alouettes’ head coach in December 2007, Trestman approached Dave Dickenson about joining his staff. Dickenson had just been released by the B.C. Lions, but the veteran quarterback declined because he wasn’t done playing.
Dickenson played one more season, earning a Grey Cup ring with Calgary following its 22-14 win over Montreal at Olympic Stadium. He retired in the off-season and began his coaching career as the Stampeders’ running backs coach.
On Sunday, Trestman and Dickenson will be on opposite sidelines as head coaches when the Toronto Argonauts meet Calgary in the Grey Cup at TD Place. They’re also finalists for the CFL’s coach of the year honour.
“My recollection is we did have a discussion and it worked out the way it did,” Trestman said Wednesday at the Grey Cup coaches news conference. “Here he is.
“It says a lot for who he is . . . every part of his game is something we all can be proud of.”
Dickenson, who replaced John Hufnagel as Calgary’s head coach after the 2015 season, said he wasn’t ready to become a full-time coach when Trestman came calling.
“I knew I could learn a lot (from Trestman) but I just hadn’t at that point given up the dream of playing,” Dickenson said. “I told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to keep this going,’ and as it turned out the career was pretty much over as a player but then I stayed in Calgary with Huf.
“Football people like talking football and I think both of us would enjoy sitting down and comparing notes and seeing where we’re at. Not this week, though, we’ll keep it for another week.”
Trestman, 61, of Minneapolis, Minn., is in his second stint as a CFL head coach, having amassed a 60-40 regular-season record over six seasons. He was a stellar 59-31 with Montreal (2008-12), leading the Alouettes to three Grey Cup appearances (winning in 2009 and 2010) before leaving to become the Chicago Bears head coach.
Trestman was fired by Chicago following the 2011 season after compiling a 13-19 record. He became the Baltimore Ravens offensive co-ordinator but was let go in October 2016 before resurfacing in Toronto in February when he and former Montreal GM Jim Popp were hired.
Trestman came to Toronto with a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru. In 2002, as the Oakland Raiders offensive co-ordinator, he helped a 37-year-old Rich Gannon become the NFL’s most valuable player. He also worked with San Francisco’s Steve Young, Arizona’s Jake Plummer and Detroit’s Scott Mitchell.
In Montreal, Trestman re-energized Hall of Fame quarterback Anthony Calvillo’s career. This season, Toronto’s Ricky Ray registered career highs in passes (668) and completions (474) while registering his first 5,000-yard season since ’08.
Dickenson, inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2015, is 28-6-2 as a CFL head coach and has guided Calgary to consecutive Grey Cup appearances. But the Stampeders suffered a stunning 36-30 overtime loss to Ottawa in last year’s final.
Dickenson left himself open for criticism in that game with a questionable decision late in regulation with Calgary trailing 33-30. Facing second-and-goal from the Ottawa two-yard line, Dickenson went with his short-yardage team rather than leave quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the league MVP, and running back Jerome Messam, the CFL’s top Canadian, in the game.
Quarterback Andrew Buckley, a six-foot, 203-pound Calgary native, was stopped for a one-yard loss and Calgary had to settle for a field goal to force overtime.
The burning question was why didn’t Dickenson call on Messam, who’d scored 11 rushing TDs during the regular season. Also, it was Messam’s six-yard run that put Calgary at the Ottawa two-yard line.
“As a playcaller, any play that doesn’t work is a bad call,” Dickenson said. “I get over (unsuccessful play calls) pretty fast . . . I couldn’t get over the game very fast.
“Being back feels good. Now we’re just hoping we can come out on the other end of it.”
Both Mitchell and Messam felt they should’ve been given the chance to deliver Calgary the win.
“Listen, I want players who want the ball,” Dickenson said. “We’re the coaches, though, we decide what’s going to put us in the best position to win.”
Toronto (9-9) has enjoyed a resurgence under Trestman after posting 5-13 record last year. The Argos are in the Grey Cup for the first time since ’12 when they beat Calgary at Rogers Centre in the historic 100th CFL title game.
Predictably, both coaches credit their quarterbacks for much of their success.
“As a coach, you’re defined by who your quarterback is,” Trestman said. “If your quarterback isn’t playing at a high level, we wouldn’t be here.”
Added Dickenson: “I think if you’re going to be a good coach you need a good quarterback, especially in the CFL. I don’t think any of us can be great coaches without a great quarterback.”