Forrest Gregg: From CFL To Cincinnati Bengals Legend

With the Bears hiring a CFL coach this offseason, it makes one question if CFL coaches can even succeed in the NFL. It has. Several times. Including in Cincinnati.

The Chicago Bears announced hired Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman this week from the Canadian Football League. He won two Grey Cups, coached in three Championship games and compiled a 53-31 regular season record, including a franchise-best 15-3 in 2009 and a 5-3 postseason record.

Coaches coming from the CFL isn't entirely new.

Bud Grant, who took the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowls, coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, winning four Grey Cups and six championship games before joining Minnesota. Before coaching the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, where his team reached the Super Bowl in four consecutive seasons, Marv Levy also coached the Montreal Alouettes five seasons, winning two Grey Cups.

And then there's Forrest Gregg.

Before taking the Cincinnati Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 1981 with a franchise-best 12 wins, Forrest Gregg spent a season in the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts after a poor stint as the Cleveland Browns head coach.

After being fired by Art Modell five days before the Browns' regular season finale in 1977. Gregg took a year off in 1978 before joining the Toronto Argonauts for a year in 1979. Then things got a little complicated. From the Associated Press on December 29, 1979.

Under mild-mannered Homer Rice, the Bengals posted dismal 4-12 records the past two years. Rice was fired the day after this season ended. The Bengals immediately sought Gregg to take over.

When Gregg had heard that the Bengals were interested, the head coach sought his immediate release from his three-year contract with the Canadian football team. Lew Hayman, owner of the Argonauts at the time, had a decision to make. "We'd like him to stay," Hayman told the AP on December 25, 1979. "It's going to come down to our judgment whether to release him or not. He's just asking for a big, big favor and I'm telling him how much I want him to stay. I made up my mind a year ago that I wanted him to stay and that hasn't changed." Hayman even reportedly offered to sweeten Gregg's contract.

After firing Homer Rice, Bengals president and general manager Paul Brown cleaned house, firing every assistant coach that was under Rice. However when Gregg began formulating his coaching staff, he elected to keep three of Rice's assistants in special teams (and tight ends) coach Frank Gansz, defensive line coach Dick Modzelewski and offensive backfield coach George Sefcik, along with strength and conditioning coach Kim Wood.

Gregg also convinced a coach from Green Bay to quit for Cincinnati. This coach would ultimately become one of the great coaches in the game today. His name is Dick LeBeau. "The hallmark of any secondary I coach will be aggressiveness," said LeBeau on January 2, 1980. "We'll play the game within the rules, but we'll hit."

Gregg coached the Bengals four seasons from 1980 through 1983, compiling the highest winning percentage (.557) in franchise history. He also led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 1981, with a squad that won 12 games that year with Ken Anderson as his quarterback. Additionally he was the first head coach to send Cincinnati to the playoffs in consecutive seasons from 1981-82, until Marvin Lewis accomplished that feat this year.

Despite having a year remaining on his contract, Gregg left Cincinnati to sign a five-year deal with the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Eve in 1983, replacing former head coach Bart Starr. Allowing Gregg to leave with a year remaining was understandable from the team's perspective. Paul Brown recognized the impact a head coach vacancy in Green Bay would have on Gregg and allowed him to explore Green Bay's offer, eventually conceding to his departure.

"We felt that with his relationship with the Packers that he deserved a chance to consider their offer. Forrest Gregg was an outstanding coach to the Bengals. He contributed so much to our team, and we are particularly grateful to him. Any time you have a coach that takes you to the Super Bowl, you have someone special."

Gregg admitted that if the Green Bay job hadn't come up, he wouldn't have left the Bengals, a team that he left on good terms with.

So if you're a Bears fan, or a fan of a team that hires a head coach from CFL, don't immediately write it off.

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