‘It will never be the same’: Grey Cup champion head coach Marc Trestman warns of ‘ripple effect’ from proposed CFL rule changes

Photo courtesy: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Marc Trestman has held a lot of titles over the years: lawyer, professor, quarterback whisperer, offensive guru, NFL head coach, and Grey Cup champion.

Now he’s adding CFL traditionalist to that list, becoming one of the most vocal opponents to the league’s extensive exploration into offseason rule changes.

Last week, the former head coach of the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts took to Twitter to voice his concerns about CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s frequent rule change discussions, calling conversations over the number of downs, yards between the hashmarks and the Canadian ratio “a distraction” and dubbing Ambrosie’s reasoning “reckless.”

The tweet was later deleted and then reposted two days later, but Trestman continued to bang the drum for rule change caution in a rare radio appearance on The SportsCage in Regina.

“I remember in my first or second year, we were sitting in a rules meeting and [former B.C. Lions head coach] Wally Buono just stopped after about 20 minutes — and this was relative to my tweet — and he said: ‘Let’s be careful here about changing the rules of the game, because we’ve got a really good game here, fellas. Let’s not screw it up,'” Trestman recalled, before explaining his own position.

“What I’m saying is that everything in this game tied to the next thing. A yard off the ball, the width of the field, the length of the end zones, the ratio. We just can’t be throwing stuff against the wall and saying this or that without having the experts that can explain the ripple effect that one change can make.”

“That was my point in the tweet. There’s nothing wrong with talking about it, but it’s another thing to be making the changes without the people that can sit down and examine this in full spectrum. Otherwise the game will change and it will never be the same.”

Currently teaching a class at the University of Miami’s law school, Trestman came out against the idea of converting the league to four downs when that was a topic of serious debate earlier this offseason. He also opposes rash changes to the CFL’s wider hashmarks or to the Canadian ratio, which he believes is a valuable strategic component.

Many Americans can be put off or confused by the CFL’s unique rules and regulations, particularly those who have risen to success in the NFL like Trestman did. However, he chose to approach the game’s tradition and history with reverence when he first took over the Alouettes in 2008, something he believes is essential for success north of the border.

“People who come from the US, coaches and players alike, if their nose is up and they just think they’re coming to a lesser game, they’re not going to be there very long. I think that’s been proven over the years. If they come there and they respect the game and the people that are involved in it, they at least give themselves a chance,” Trestman noted.

“One thing that I found out is the longer you are in it, the more you realize how brilliant it is and how beautiful the game is.”

The coach leaned on veteran players like Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon, as well as Canadian coaches, to guide him through the nuances. The results speak for themselves, with Trestman coaching the Alouettes to back-to-back Grey Cup victories and winning a third with the Toronto Argonauts in his first season back from the NFL.

The unique challenges of Canadian rules make for a more engaging chess match than south of the border and Trestman believes the CFL has not done enough to engage younger fans at the grass roots level to instill a love for three-down intricacies.

“It’s a thinking man’s game. It’s a very difficult game to manage time and whoever put it together was extremely brilliant,” he praised. “We’ve just got to start getting more young people involved throughout the country, so they can fall in love with the game and understand it well enough. So that they can say: ‘Yeah, the NFL is great, but this is really special — it’s our game.'”

Ambrosie and the rest of the board of governors have been painfully slow to invest in that aspect of long-term growth, choosing instead to push for a complete review of the league’s rules. In so doing, they’ve received a failing grade from professor Trestman.