At a time when there is strong concern regarding the transition players are making into retirement, Jon Kitna has got it right. The 16-year NFL quarterback retired from the Dallas Cowboys in January and is already hard at work as a high-school math teacher and football coach at his alma mater in Tacoma, Wash.
Jon Kitna joined Mitch in the Morning on KJR in Seattle to discuss the details behind this fascinating new chapter in his life, touching on how long this was in the works and his value system and approach to his new career.
On leaving the NFL behind to become a high-school math teacher :
“I knew football was over. Whether it was starting to teach or whatever, my time was done. I was blessed to play as long as I played and never imagined it going as long as it did. And I never thought I was gonna play to where my son — my oldest son is gonna be a freshman next year — and I never wanted to, so I always thought it was gonna be done. So when that became apparent that that wasn’t gonna be the case, I definitely wanted it to be done before he started high school, and for him to have that kind of, almost normalcy. And on top of that my back just became an issue that, as I told the Cowboys last year, I just don’t think I can be depended on to have to go in and win games or do anything like that. So I knew it was over. I think it would have been different if I had been starting for the last three years and then all of a sudden it was over. But kind of being a backup, I think it makes it a little easier.”
On becoming a fan of the game instead now :
“There’ll be things that I miss and there are certainly things that happen every day in the NFL, in locker rooms and stuff that you just can’t recreate those situations. It’ll be hard to watch games on TV because you really only see about half of what’s really happening on TV. I laugh because people make judgments about what they see on TV and things like that. Well, it’s hard to make judgments. And so you’ve gotta become more of a fan. … I’m glad that I had 16 years and I was blessed by it. And it will be different, but fortunately for me it’s not like I’m sitting around doing nothing and I won’t have a lot of time to think about it.”
On always having a backup plan because he originally didn’t think he’d cut it in the NFL:
“It just didn’t seem like that was gonna happen. So when it did happen it was totally surprising and didn’t know how long it was gonna last. And so I’ve always kind of been trying to prepare for life after football, but it’s hard. It is hard to keep that mindset because the game is so fun and the lifestyle you’re afforded to live is so fun and so rewarding. But at the same time, it’s almost a trick, because it is so not normal. And so it just really becomes — when you get out of the game, you have to allow your mind, your whole mind to shift back into what is normal.”
On always figuring he’d become a math teacher:
“Well, that was my degree, and I enjoy it. I enjoy math. I’ve found it much more difficult than I thought coming back here. And I’ve always felt like I had a healthy respect for teachers, but now I feel like I just have even more. … It’s overwhelming, honestly. And part of that’s coming in in the middle of the year and not having done it for 16 years and things like that. A lot has changed. But yeah, my wife and I always felt like our greatest impact for our lives was gonna be in a public high school coaching and teaching. And for me, the thing that I like to teach the most is math, and the thing that I enjoy the most is math. So that was always kinda the hook for us.”
On what he wanted to do more, coach the football team or teach math (he’s doing both):
“My vision is to run a football program that focuses on training the young man, not the football player. We call it being a transformational coach as opposed to a transactional coach. Coaching character and integrity through the avenue of high-school football and producing better young men as they graduate and move on.”