Naylor: Miller, Trestman intersect at Grey Cup

David Naylor
11/24/2010 8:16:14 PM
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They've sat side-by-side at the head coaches' table to kick off Grey Cup Week for two consecutive years.

But Montreal's Marc Trestman and Saskatchewan's Ken Miller could not have taken more different paths to get here.

In a league full of American coaches who somehow find themselves working in Canada through a combination of circumstances, luck and slim degrees of separation within the football coaching fraternity, Trestman and Miller have travelled an unlikely collision course.

A little less than a decade ago Trestman was working as offensive co-ordinator for the Oakland Raiders under then head coach John Gruden. The success Trestman enjoyed with Oakland was merely a continuation of that he'd had previously enjoyed at other NFL stops, including during the mid-late 1990s with the San Francisco 49ers where he was offensive co-ordinator for a team that had veterans Steve Young and Jerry Rice, and a young Terrell Owens.

Trestman helped the Raiders get to their first Super Bowl in 20 years at the end of the 2002 season in which quarterback Rich Gannon was named the NFL's most valuable player.

But while Trestman was becoming a hot commodity in the NFL, Miller was out of football for the first time in decades and was teaching high school biology in a tough neighborhood in Southern California.

Miller had spent most of his career coaching at the NCAA Division III level. And with an eye already on retirement as he neared his 60th birthday, he considered coaching part-time at a local community college just to supplement his teaching income.

Then early in early 2002 Miller received a phone call from Gary Etcheverry which changed the course of his career dramatically. Miller and Etcheverry had coached with and against each other at the NCAA Division III collegiate level in Southern California for years and remained friends.  Etcheverry had just been appointed head coach of the Toronto Argonauts and needed some help.

“He said they were having some difficulty with quarterbacks and wondered if I could come up and work with the quarterbacks,” said Miller. “So I resigned my position as a school teacher.”

Miller remained on the Argos staff after Etcheverry was fired midway through that season and moved to offensive line coach the next season, eventually being part of a Grey Cup winner when the Argos upset the B.C. Lions in the 2004 in Ottawa.

Miller remained in Toronto through the 2006 season, then joined newly appointed Saskatchewan head coach Kent Austin before the 2007 season.

Trestman, meanwhile, had moved from the NFL to the college ranks where he became offensive co-ordinator at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C in 2004. When the Wolfpack staff was let go at the end of the 2006 season, Trestman did some work for the New Orleans Saints, while his family stayed behind in Raleigh, where his daughters were entering high school.

It was after that 2007 season that the paths of Miller and Trestman --  one who'd spent most of his career at the lower-tier college ranks and one who'd worked with the best of the best in the NFL -- began to converge.

In Saskatchewan, Kent Austin left for the University of Mississippi on the heels of the Roughriders capturing their first Grey Cup in 18 seasons. In a surprise move, the then 66-year-old Miller was promoted from assistant to his first head coaching job in pro football.

In Montreal, Jim Popp was relinquishing his head coaching duties after one season and returning fulltime to the general manager's role. He had known Trestman since the late 1980s when Trestman and Popp's father, Joe, had coached together on the staff of the Cleveland Browns under Bud Carson.

Popp made a phone call and Trestman, at first unsure what to do, accepted the job of coaching a new game, amid much skepticism from CFL fans in Montreal and beyond.

“My goal in 2008 was to find a job, any job in or out of football, where I could get my daughters through high school,” Trestman said. “Then a miracle happened, a chance to do what I wanted to do while continuing to live in Raleigh.”

And so here they are, for the second year in a row, coaching in a foreign land, in a game both of them came to know, understand in love at a stage of their careers when usually most of the big twist and turns have already occurred.

It's hard to say which of them would have been more surprised to look into the future a decade ago and see what was ahead.

Canadian football is as lucky to have them as they are to have it.

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