Bill Parcells wanted to make sure Jason Witten had actually retired before commenting.
Now that Witten has officially retired, the Hall of Fame head coach opened his Praise Book for the tight end he selected in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Taking a break while hitting golf balls on a driving range Thursday morning, Parcells was at his effusive best to describe Witten.
"He's what pro football is supposed to be about," Parcells said in a phone conversation.
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When Parcells wants to, he has the unique ability to praise people in a way few men in his line of work ever have. He just needs to be properly motivated.
Witten motivates him.
I asked him what he saw in Witten early in the process to select him, or to think he could make it, and then Parcells just got going.
"I had had pretty good points of experience at that position. I had been around [tight ends] Russ Francis, Ben Coates, Mark Bavaro — they had all played for me," Parcells said. "[Witten] looked like he had the kind of body type and size and speed like those guys. He was a four-year starter at Tennessee.
"He comes in [to the Cowboys] and he established himself early. He maximized his potential as a player. He makes a significant contribution to the team every single year. And he saved his money. And now he is transitioning to another career. That's what it's supposed to be about. For every one of those guys you see do this, there are six or seven that don't have anything left after football."
Parcells made a habit of making sure to talk to players about money, and specifically not to spend it on stuff. He had the same chat with Witten.
"The first thing I talked to him about was saving it, and that he was going to have access to things before that he never had. That didn't mean he needed it," Parcells said. "He's transitioning to another career. That is gratifying to see to a nice young person. It's nice. It makes me happy. That's why I got in this business."
From almost the moment Witten arrived on the team, Parcells challenged him to be something more than a guy who caught passes. Witten would say, "He told me, 'I don't need some candy [bleep] tight end like [Tony] Gonzalez."
Witten earned Parcells' trust and respect by being able to do everything. He caught. He blocked. He led. He played. He played hard. He was reliable.
Witten played for Parcells from 2003 to '06. By the time Parcells left the Cowboys, Witten was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. So much of the foundation to Witten's success began from his relationship with Parcells.
During Witten's rookie season, he suffered a broken jaw and had to drink his food through a straw. A thinning Witten put weights in his pockets in order to make weight so he could continue to practice.
"Oh, everyone tells this story," Parcells said.
The Cowboys didn't want Witten playing, so Parcells made a point of telling the defensive players to go at Witten during practice. Witten didn't back down.
"A player's job is to play and he could obviously play," Parcells said. "He has good mental toughness and that was obvious. I'm just happy he had the career and he's done this."
Parcells doesn't do this every day, but not every player is Jason Witten.
Witten is one of the few people to prompt Parcells to open his Praise Book.