Kitna re­turns to NFL with Cow­boys, seeks growth in Prescott

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon As­so­ci­ated Press

OXNARD, Calif. — Jon Kitna unfolded a piece of pa­per de­tail­ing that day’s prac­tice plan be­cause he thought it was a good way to il­lus­trate why the for­mer Dal­las quar­ter­back was back in the NFL with the Cow­boys af­ter coach­ing high school foot­ball for seven years.

Dak Prescott’s new po­si­tion coach never stopped com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ja­son Gar­rett, who re­placed the fired Wade Phillips as head coach while Kitna was start­ing for an in­jured Tony Romo half­way through a lost sea­son in 2010. Now Kitna is on the staff of a man he calls a men­tor — even though Gar­rett is only seven years older.

“Like, lit­er­ally, I could bring one of my coaches here from the last seven years and I could hand them this, and they’d know ex­actly what this is and how it works and what we’re do­ing,” Kitna said as he held out the pa­per. “He gave me all that stuff.”

When Gar­rett and the Cow­boys were deal­ing with an­other Romo in­jury and needed an emer­gency backup for a 2013 reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale with a play­off berth on the line, Kitna trav­eled from Washington state, where he was coach­ing his high school alma mater, to wear the head­set for one Sun­day.

A year later, Kitna re­turned to Texas as coach at Wax­a­hachie High School, just south of Dal­las. Af­ter three years there, he coached at a pri­vate school in Ari­zona be­fore the Cow­boys pro­moted Kellen Moore to of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor af­ter just one year as QB coach.

Re-en­ter Kitna, whose play­ing ca­reer over­lapped

with Gar­rett’s for al­most a decade — al­though they were never team­mates — be­fore Gar­rett be­came his of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Dal­las.

“At that time, I al­ways said to my­self at some point he is go­ing to stop play­ing,” Gar­rett said. “At some point we got to get him back on board. He’s got great knowl­edge of the game. He’s got a great way to con­nect with peo­ple. The way he in­ter­acts with play­ers. The way he in­ter­acts with coaches.”

Gar­rett’s been known to say many of the same things about Prescott af­ter two NFC East ti­tles in three sea­sons, along with NFL Rookie of the Year hon­ors in 2016 when he led Dal­las to a fran­chise-record 11-game win­ning streak.

Kitna is com­ing along at an im­por­tant time, the 46-year-old look­ing like the per­fect com­ple­ment for some­one ex­actly 20 years younger.

Viewed by the front of­fice as the face of the fran­chise for the next decade and per­haps be­yond, Prescott seeks his first big con­tract af­ter sig­nif­i­cantly out­play­ing his fourth-round rookie deal. The Cow­boys be­lieve they have the pieces to end a nearly 25-year Su­per Bowl drought.

Prescott keeps com­ing back to foot­work when asked how he thinks Kitna is go­ing to make him bet­ter.

“He does a great job of stay­ing on top of us ev­ery prac­tice, go­ing in the film room and mak­ing sure we touch up on it as well,” Prescott said. “I’m see­ing the im­prove­ment. It feels great.”

When he fi­nally de­cided to make the jump, Kitna went from coach­ing teenagers to a two-time Pro Bowler look­ing for an­swers on how to get past the di­vi­sional play­offs af­ter los­ing in that round twice.

The dif­fer­ence wasn’t lost on a for­mer player who never made the Pro Bowl, had a los­ing record (54-70), lost both his play­off starts and threw al­most as many in­ter­cep­tions (165) as touch­downs (169). A ca­reer that spanned 14 sea­sons also in­cluded stops in Seat­tle, Cincin­nati and Detroit.

“The thing I had to get over was, and it was quick, ‘I have some­thing to of­fer,’” Kitna said, chuck­ling at the mem­ory of show­ing up with Gar­rett’s staff at the Pro Bowl be­fore the Cow­boys had an­nounced his hir­ing, feel­ing as if “the staff doesn’t even know who you are.”

“Es­pe­cially for me, I’m a se­vere in­tro­vert. I set the scale for it. I just had to get over it. And Dak’s been great. I do have not only some­thing to of­fer. I think I have a lot to of­fer. And I think we’re grow­ing to­gether.”

Kitna has an­other duty in help­ing the Cow­boys set­tle on Prescott’s backup. Cooper Rush had the job the past two sea­sons and ap­pears in line for a third, par­tic­u­larly af­ter Mike

White strug­gled in the pre­sea­son opener at San Francisco last week­end.

Rush and White were on the ros­ter last sea­son, but the Cow­boys might not have the lux­ury of keep­ing three quar­ter­backs this sea­son. This is where Kitna’s voice be­comes im­por­tant again.

“At the end of the day, this is Dak’s team and we need to make sure that he’s ready to go come Week 1,” White said. “I think (Kitna) does a great job of spend­ing time with me and Coop as well, whether it was ex­tra meet­ing times on the field af­ter prac­tice, be­fore prac­tice. He’s re­ally di­aled in with it all.”

Dur­ing his three years as a high school coach in Texas, Kitna usu­ally took at least a day each sea­son to bring his staff to a Cow­boys prac­tice. His last two years of that were Prescott’s first two sea­sons in the NFL. For Kitna, the fa­mil­iar­ity ran deeper than that.

“I don’t know that I ever stopped coach­ing high school kids like I was in the NFL,” Kitna said. “My high school kids would come here right now and go,

‘Oh, that’s that play. That’s that play. That’s that play.’ We didn’t have quite the vol­ume. But we had heavy vol­ume.

“At the end of the day, you have to be able to teach what you have up here. It’s not OK to just have knowl­edge. You have to be able to give knowl­edge. I think that’s the same way as high school or here.”

MICHAEL AINSWORTH/AP

In this Wed­nes­day, May 22, 2019 file photo, Dal­las Cow­boys quar­ter­backs coach Jon Kitna throws the ball along­side Dak Prescott, 4, dur­ing NFL foot­ball prac­tice in Frisco, Texas. Jon Kitna is back in the NFL with one of the quar­ter­back’s for­mer teams in the Dal­las Cow­boys af­ter coach­ing high school foot­ball for seven years. Kitna’s re­turn has plenty to do with his re­la­tion­ship with Coach Ja­son Gar­rett.

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