Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cowboys legend Jason Witten’s new journey underway as Liberty Christian football coach

As one of his many official acts as the new head football coach at Liberty Christian School in Argyle, Jason Witten took it upon himself this summer to liven up the team’s training camp at Camp Copass in Denton. Yes, there were the typical practices and different skills workouts — and the Dallas Cowboys legend wanted all of it to be on-point as the season drew closer. But he also interjected fun competitions such as kickball, 3-on-3 basketball, and volleyball to break up the monotony.

On the last night, Witten personally delivered a winner’s trophy. And his new family quickly returned the favor.

“I had one of the team moms bring it, but I hadn’t seen it yet,” Witten said. “When I opened the box, it was a mini version of the Lombardi Trophy. There were a lot of chuckles, and as I stood there holding it, I said, ‘So, this is what it feels like.’”

Witten, a bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famer, admitted with that funny story that his biggest regret from his playing days was never winning a Super Bowl. But that doesn’t mean he can’t one day deliver a championship to Liberty Christian.

“I want to bring that to this community. They deserve it,” Witten said. “Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go.”

The poignant yet funny exchange was one of many Witten graciously shared with a crowd of local reporters and media outlets during his first press conference on Aug. 20 in Liberty’s Navy Room. Witten was hired as the program’s new head coach on Feb. 1 — mere weeks after his playing career ended for a second time. He had not publicly commented on his new role before Friday despite diving head-first into the position throughout the spring and summer.

His hire is a big one for Liberty, which hopes to revitalize its football program following the departure of Steven Greek, who was 13-20 in three years at the helm. Clearly, Witten has seen and done it all and, more importantly, has a history with the school. Witten and wife, Michelle, have four children attending Liberty.

Witten is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions and is second on the NFL’s list for all-time receptions by a tight end. He spent the 2020 season with the Las Vegas Raiders. Prior to that, he was with the Cowboys from 2003-17. He retired in 2018 and served as ESPN’s color commentator on Monday Night Football but returned for the 2019 season with Dallas.

Witten tallied 1,228 career receptions — the fourth-most in league history. In 2012, he was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, an honor recognizing a player’s charity and volunteer contributions and performance on the field.

“I’ve been here for 20 years, and just thinking about this day, it goes in line with a lot of important days [at Liberty],” Athletic Director Johnny Isom said. “When our campus moved from Denton to Argyle — that was a big day. I think about our athletic expansion, and that was also a big day. When we built our two-floor high school — those were big days.

“This is another big day [for Liberty].”

Witten agreed.

“Going through this process from late January, a lot of people thought I was crazy to turn down NFL and college jobs and go into coaching high school,” Witten said. “But they couldn’t be more off-base because I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s been a lot of fun for me to get involved in this community and obviously have a huge impact on young kids’ lives. I’ve learned a lot of things and made a lot of mistakes, but I’m real excited to be the head coach here, and I’m excited for this football team. Really, more than anything, I’m excited for this wonderful community at Liberty Christian. These are wonderful people, and it’s a community that’s aligned with a lot of the same beliefs we have as a family.”

Within one minute of taking the podium on Friday, Witten was at ease as he talked about everything from his playing days to retirement and ultimately turning the page to coaching. He expressed how big of a fan he is of Texas high school football and shared how excited he is to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a high school coach.

“I’ve been a fan of high school football here in Texas for a long time,” Witten said. “I’ve followed it. There are a lot of great players and coaches. I realized really quickly during 7-on-7 tournaments this summer that there are some really good coaches. It’s just about diving in. I’ve watched a lot of film. Coaches have opened the door for me and allowed me to come in. I’ve embraced the challenge of having to learn new things. Some of those offensive plays that I ran out in Dallas with Jason Garrett, Bill Parcells, and Sean Payton don’t always correlate in high school football.”

Liberty Christian’s new head football coach Jason Witten and senior Elijah Williams. (Photo by Lynn Seeden)

Witten jokingly opened the proceedings by saying that he chose to have a scrimmage amongst his own players right before the presser to guarantee that he’d be 1-0 before meeting with reporters. Flanked by two of his players, Elijah Williams and Colby McCray, he praised both and said they are the heart and soul of a team that is expected to turn heads right off the bat when they travel to Legacy Christian Academy on Sept. 3.

Witten shared that Elijah’s dad was a former teammate of his during his early days in Dallas, and he and Elijah had a funny exchange when Elijah joked that no one wanted to guard Witten when he lined up at tight end one day in practice.

“Who’s going to guard him?” Elijah said. “He knows football more than anyone.”

McCray agreed, saying they are less star-struck by Witten now and see him as their head coach.

“It was pretty cool. But after that, we went to work,” McCray said. “He pushes us every day, and the culture is changing.”

The back-and-forth exchanges proved that Witten is invested in accepting his new career path.

“The biggest things I expressed early on in the process was that this isn’t one of those deals where I’m not showing up to the three-hour practices; just text or call me if you need anything,” Witten said. “I want to be around and be involved in the community. I think that’s the way it works, and it needs to work that way. I need to be more than just a football coach. I need to have an influence, join the rest of the staff, make a difference, and be part of a community. I think one of the things about high school football is that you do it all. You learn how to do laundry, wash jerseys, fill up water bottles and take pads out to the field. It’s been a great experience for me.

“I embrace the entire process. I revere the game, and I’m not going to cheat it.”

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