New Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has had success on every level, but his two Grey Cups in five seasons with the Montreal Alouettes have been his most public success. A “quarterback guru” who helped Bernie Kosar succeed in college and the pros, and worked with Tim Tebow in the run-up to the 2010 NFL Draft, Trestman should look to these coaches (and one executive) who successfully ran clubs in the United States and Canada.
Marv Levy - Trestman’s CFL career perhaps mirrors former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy’s the most. Like Trestman, Levy coached the Montreal Alouettes to two Grey Cup wins in five seasons before heading to the NFL. However, Levy’s success in America did not happen overnight; Marv only had one winning season with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1978 to 1982. After one season with the USFL’s Chicago Blitz in 1984, Levy rebuilt the Buffalo Bills around fellow USFL-er Jim Kelly. Levy and Kelly both led one of the most consistently successful teams in NFL history, if one that always fell short of the main prize. Trestman sought out Levy for advice when he took over the Alouettes, and last week Levy came out in support of Trestman coaching the Bears.
Bud Grant - A four time Grey Cup winner and a four time Super Bowl loser, Grant still has a career most would envy. Grant started coaching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the age of 30, and went on to win four CFL titles in five years. When hired by the Minnesota Vikings in 1967 Grant brought the toughness a cold-weather team needed, and led them to one NFL championship and three NFC championships. While never winning the Super Bowl, Grant won the 1950 NBA Finals with the Minneapolis Lakers. For his success, Grant is in both the pro football and the Canadian football halls of fame.
Steve Owen - “Stout Steve Owen” may no longer be a household name to New York Giants fans, but to this day he is one of the franchise’s all-time greatest coaches. In Owen’s 24 seasons as head coach of the football Giants, he won the 1935 and 1938 NFL championships, in addition to the 1927 title as a player. Near the end of his life he had several stints coaching in the CFL, including a turn with the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he won Coach of the Year in 1962. Owen had a heart attack after the season and resigned from the team, dying from a cerebral hemorrhage less than two years later.
While he never was a head coach in the NFL, you can also make a case for general manager Jim Finks based on his front office successes in Canada in the U.S. After laying the groundwork for a successful team in Calgary, Finks did the same for the Minnesota Vikings (where he hired Bud Grant and brought in CFL QB Joe Kapp), the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints. Jim Finks was almost elected to replace Pete Rozelle as NFL commissioner in 1989 but the job ultimately went to Paul Tagliabue, and Finks passed away in 1994.