In February 2021, Jason Witten shocked the football world when he announced that he wasn’t going to be coaching in the NFL, he wasn’t going to coach college, but was headed to coach at a private school in Argyle, Texas. This likely sounded too good to be true for Liberty Christian’s football players such as senior wide receiver Elijah Williams, who wasn’t sure if this was just another rumor.
For Witten, his time in high school playing football was a major influence in his life. Dave Rider, Witten’s grandfather and veteran football coach, taught him the value of making an impact both on and off the field.
“I find that a lot of his sayings are coming out of my mouth. He was a great influence of mine,” Witten says. “When I was at his funeral, there were guys there that played for him 40 years ago who were talking about the impact he had on their life. That had a big part in making this decision. You can have a positive impact on young kids' lives 40 years later. I want to make a difference. The school, Dr. McCullough and Johnny (Isom), they provided that opportunity for me.”
The responsibilities that come with being an NFL player or coach, or a college coach can be drastically different from those that come with coaching high schoolers. Witten is looking forward to getting down and dirty in his new role.
“I welcome all of it. I think that the biggest thing that I expressed early on in the process was that this wasn't one of those deals that I was going to show up for the three-hour practice and (say) text or call me if you need anything,” Witten says. “ I want to be around. I want to be involved in the community. I think that's the way it works, and it needs to work that way. I think one of the things about coaching high school football is you do it all – learn how to do laundry and wash jerseys and fill up water bottles and take out pads to the field.”
Liberty has a history with high-profile coaches. During the 2012 season, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was an offensive coordinator for his son's sixth grade team. So Athletic Director Johnny Isom knows a little something about hiring the right people.
“In the position that I’m in, I hire a lot of people, so I’m getting better at it,” Isom says. “We have a lot of new coaches every year. So there's a lot of chances for us to hire good people, and the Lord's blessed us with these people.”
Football is more than scoring touchdowns and tackling. As important as winning games is, a coach is supposed to train his players and prepare them to be the best they can be. A coach needs to teach, educate and develop the team as active members of the community. Witten and the coaching staff have coined the slogan “Be One” for this season.
“It starts with the effort on the field. You can't be successful if we don't play hard, if you don't have a tremendous passion for the game and love for the game,” Witten says. “We all experienced high school sports in some capacity. Those are memories and friendships that you'll have for the rest of your life. I think that's kind of our core values as a football team, family and a brotherhood.”
Most football fans will remember Jason Witten as one of the greatest Dallas Cowboys of all time and a Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, an honor that recognizes NFL players that excel on the field and for their community. How we ultimately remember Jason Witten under the Friday night lights, may be a question to be answered a long time from now. Witten hopes to leave a legacy for the team and also the coaches. Witten doesn’t expect to see the full impact he might have right away. He remembers a coach saying,
“Call me in 20 years and tell me what kind of men they are.”
That’s what has stuck with Witten when asked about how to measure his success as a coach.
Witten wants to set the bar high for what players should expect from a coach, regardless of what his resume says. From being the first one in and last one out to understanding that leadership happens at every position on the field and on the sidelines. Witten wants to do more than teach kids how to play football. He is committed to meeting the players where they are, to understand what motivates them and make them better players and ultimately better, more confident men.