'This Dude Is Really, Really Smart:' How Marcus Brady's Football Journey Led To Becoming Colts' Offensive Coordinator

To those who knew Marcus Brady as a quarterback and coach in the Canadian Football League, it's hardly a surprise that he's wound up as an NFL offensive coordinator. 

Marc Trestman brought what he called the "read bible" to the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes in 2008. It was a hulking, dense 13-page packet that showed the proper read on every single passing play in Trestman's offense. 

Everything about it had to be accurate. Every word had to be perfect.

So Marcus Brady, the Alouettes' backup quarterback, set out to make it perfect.

Right down to every single detail.

"Marcus would just go over that thing with a fine-tooth comb. He became my editor," Scott Milanovich, then the Alouettes' offensive coordinator and now the Colts' quarterbacks coach, said. "If we gave it out on Saturday, I'd give it to Marcus on Friday and he'd go through it — he'd be like, the font's wrong here, you misspelled this one."

"That was just me being tedious and being anal," Brady recalled, "trying to make everything look perfect."

But there was a point to being perfect, right down to fixing a misspelling here or a weird font there. 

The goal, Trestman said, was so "there were never gray areas in interpretation of plays or reads." So it was more than just Brady being tedious. It was about Brady doing everything he could to help the Alouettes win.

And it was among the many signs to those around the now first-year Colts offensive coordinator that showed, yeah, this guy was going to be a coach some day. And a good one at that. 

"Obviously you're always harping and stressing the details," Brady said. "And in order to be able to do that amongst your players you gotta be detailed yourself."

***

As a kid in San Diego, Brady was initially better at baseball than he was at football. His strong arm and athleticism made him a natural shortstop, but he always gravitated toward playing quarterback. He loved watching Randall Cunningham and Steve Young in the NFL and Charlie Ward in college — guys who could run and throw who "fit my style of play," Brady said. 

Brady excelled as the starting quarterback at Samuel F.B. Morse High School in San Diego, but most of the interest he received from college programs came with a caveat: To change positions. And not play quarterback.

"It was frustrating at times because I was like, why am I going to switch positions (to) something I've never played? I've been playing quarterback since the age of eight and had success and done well," Brady said. "I just felt like I wasn't getting the opportunities. That part was frustrating, I didn't let it hold me back, I just continued pushing on and continued to try to find different opportunities and progressing my skills."

Brady signed to play at Navy — which ran (and still runs) the triple option — but didn't stay in Annapolis for very long. He went there for the opportunity to play at the Division I level, but quickly found what he really wanted was an opportunity to showcase himself as a passing quarterback. 

So he went back across the country to Cal State Northridge, which competed in the pass-happy Big Sky Conference. Brady wound up as Northridge's all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns — records that, by the way, will never be broken, since Northridge shut down its football program after Brady's career there ended in 2001. 

Brady thought he had a chance to be picked in the 2002 NFL Draft, but after going undrafted he signed with the Green Bay Packers. He spent the next few months in the same room as Brett Favre and Doug Pederson — with Darrell Bevell his quarterbacks coach — and appeared in one preseason game for the Packers that year. 

After he was cut by the Packers that preseason, an opportunity presented itself in the CFL. And Brady stayed north of the border for the next 16 years, where he wound up learning some things that put him on the cutting edge of football at the time. 

"I just kept learning new things about football in general and how even some of the zone reads and RPOs, a lot of that stuff the CFL was doing before it got big in colleges," Brady said. "But people don't really talk about that. I was doing that in 2002 as a quarterback in the CFL."

***

Brady played for the Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes from 2002-2008, but only started a handful of times thanks to being behind three of the CFL's greatest quarterbacks (Damon Allen, Danny McManus and Anthony Calvillo). But he was still young, and he kept competing for an opportunity to play all while impressing teammates in every province with his football I.Q. and demeanor. 

"Sitting around having lunch during training camp, it was like, this dude is really, really smart," former running back Jarrett Payton, a teammate of Brady's with the Alouettes in 2007, recalled. "He's like a coach on the football field. I think that's what jumped out to me first is how smart he was, just how well-versed he was with the game of football and his passion for the game of football."

Payton's initial impression of Brady was only strengthened by how much Brady helped him learn the intricacies of Canadian football during their year together. And Payton, too, stressed that Brady was a good player in his own right (who, also, could kick a pooch punt with the best of them). 

"With Marcus, we never missed a beat (when he played)," Payton, the son of Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton, said. "His ability to be able to pre-snap read, get outside and make plays with his feet — because up in Canada you have to be able to move. And he was able to move. I used to love watching him throw on the run all the time."

Trestman arrived in Montreal in 2008 and quickly made clear Calvillo would be the Alouettes' starting quarterback — this after he missed the final five games of the 2007 season to be with his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer a week after giving birth to the couple's second daughter. Brady played well in place of Calvillo, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, but Trestman stuck with Calvillo — a situation Brady easily could've found unfair, Trestman said. 

But Brady responded well, and that left a strong impression on Trestman. It "was really a reflection on who he was," Trestman said. That was the first inkling Trestman got about Brady's future as a coach.

Over the next year, Brady further impressed Trestman and Milanovich with his work behind the scenes — including editing the read bible. There was plenty about him that screamed "future coach." And it's a career path he thought about plenty during his time in the CFL. 

"I'm in another country playing the game that I love," Brady said. "Different thoughts go into your head. What am I going to do for the rest of my life? I know I love football and I love being a quarterback, the mental part of the game. And so coaching always intrigued me. 

"I was always one, a player that was coaching on the field, helping out other players, receivers, so there's times some of my receivers would call me OC just because I was always coaching them up." 

***

Brady's contract with the Alouettes was up after the 2008 season, and at 28, he hoped to find a team that'd let him compete to be a starter in the CFL. But Trestman had another thought: The Alouettes lost their wide receivers coach after the season. And he wanted to hire Brady to coach a position he had never played. 

"I just felt that he was with a group of people that could help him transition and it would be a great place to start for him," Trestman said. "He knew the quarterback position, Scott was the quarterback coach, they had worked together. And I just felt like the three of us could work to get the job done. 

"… I didn't have any doubt that Marcus would be able to handle it."

Brady, though, found teams in the CFL only viewed him as a veteran backup. And so, after conversations with Trestman and Milanovich, he agreed to start his coaching career with the Alouettes' wide receivers in 2009.

He spent three years in that role diving into the science of playing receiver while keeping the same attention to detail he approached football with as a player. He proved himself as a strong relationship builder, too, Trestman said. 

And while Trestman, Milanovich and Brady all coached in Montreal, another former quarterback with experience coaching wide receivers stopped by for a visit. 

Frank Reich. 

In 2012, when Milanovich was hired as the Toronto Argonauts' head coach, promoting Brady to offensive coordinator was an easy decision for Trestman. Trestman left for the Bears after the 2012 season and Brady followed Milanovich to Toronto, where he spent the next five years as the Argonauts' offensive coordinator. 

But in 2018, as Reich began to assemble his first coaching staff as the Colts' head coach, he reached out to Milanovich — who he developed a close relationship with after that visit to Montreal — to see if he could recommend someone to coach quarterbacks. 

Milanovich offered Brady's name (Brady had actually just re-upped with the Argonauts). And for the first time in 16 years, Brady had an opportunity in the NFL — an opportunity he'd been chasing every year he spent in Canada. 

Brady flew to Jacksonville, where Milanovich was the Jaguars' quarterbacks coach, to prep for the interview. 

"Marcus won me over very quickly," Reich said. 

And now here we are, three years later, with Brady ascending to being the Colts' offensive coordinator. 

He's come a long way from being told not to play quarterback.

To going across the country to Navy and back to Cal State Northridge.

To leaving the country and carving out a place in the Canadian Football League.

To being hired at 28 to coach wide receivers after a lifetime playing quarterback.

"I think everything he's done up to this point leading him to Indy, I think it's all about the hard work and the determination that he used when he was a football player on the field and now he's just carrying that over into the other field, into being a coach," Payton said. "To me, that's what's so cool. The possibilities are endless." 

Or, as Trestman put it: "I would say Marcus has gone from working in the mail room to being a chief officer now within the company. 

"And he certainly deserves that opportunity."

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