*(Editor's Note: Since Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells has hired three new assistant coaches and upgraded the responsibilities of four others, DallasCowboys.com will take a look at their duties in a seven-part series. Today's focus will be on tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens. *
IRVING, Texas - When Bill Parcells changed the placard on Paul Pasqualoni's desk from tight ends coach to linebackers coach in order to fill the void left by Gary Gibbs, who departed for New Orleans, he was left with an open position and a horde of options to choose from.
He could have moved quarterbacks coach David Lee over to handle tight ends. He could have hired one of the most successful high school coaches in the state of Texas. He could have turned to an out-of-work assistant with NFL experience.
But in a departure from his past hiring and signing patterns, seemingly always looking for familiarity during his term in Dallas, Parcells chose a man who never has graced an NFL sideline as a coach, let alone one he is familiar with.
Meet Freddie Kitchens, the former University of Alabama quarterback back in his day, a guy until about six months ago Parcells didn't know from Adam. He now is in charge of the Cowboys' tight ends, a fairly important responsibility since the Cowboys plan on using more two-tight end sets this year in their offense.
"We've spent the first two or three months running the offense, so I'm starting to feel confident," said Kitchens, who quarterbacked the Crimson Tide from 1995-97. "The attention to detail in the NFL is a little more strict, but as far as on the field is concerned, coaching is coaching."
Kitchens, still just 31, had spent the past two years at Mississippi State as an assistant coach. The previous three years he was just up the road at North Texas coaching running backs. And perhaps the most interesting entry on his résumé is the year he spent as a grad assistant at LSU (2000) under current Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban, who's offensive and defensive schemes have often been compared to those of Parcells.
Parcells said he had no previous experience with Kitchens, but that Mississippi State head coach and friend Sylvester Croom highly recommended his aid after Kitchens' name was passed along to the Cowboys head coach by his scouting staff as a young, up-and-coming college assistant to keep an eye on.
While Kitchens clearly understands the difference in styles between the college and pro games, and as All-Pro tight end Jason Witten already has taken notice of this year, his lack of NFL coaching experience hasn't hindered his ability to coach and relate to his players.
"Freddie has been great, just the way he's come in and approached everything," said Witten, who will be trying to earn his third consecutive Pro Bowl trip under his third tight ends coach in as many years. "This is his first time in the NFL, but he's got a lot of energy out there.
"He's a little more personable than Pasqualoni. He wants to get more on the same level as the players. He's not afraid to tell you how it is, but he's a great coach to be around. All of the guys have really taken a liking to him."
Kitchens narrowly edged out Southlake (Texas) Carroll head coach Todd Dodge for the tight end position. Parcells was impressed with Dodge, also a college quarterback (Texas), even though he had no coaching experience above the high school level. Winning three state titles in the past four years has a way of elevating a coach's status.
But in the end, Parcells said Dodge, who also interviewed for the job, probably was more suited to handle quarterbacks or receivers than tight ends, and ended up choosing Kitchens, who coached tight ends at Mississippi State in 2004 before taking on the running backs in 2005.
This is the NFL, though, and while Kitchens understands it's a different level and that the challenges will be ratcheted up a few notches, watching him interact with his tight ends, his aggressive yet discerning attitude fits right in with the players he's been asked to coach.
"The biggest difference is the speed in this league," said Kitchens, who finished his Alabama career fourth in passing yards while leading the Tide to three consecutive bowl appearances. "The knowledge the players have is also greater. They've all been in the league a little longer, so they have more experience than I'm used to in the college game. They have a better grasp of everything we're teaching them, so I'm excited to work with these guys."
And to be in the NFL, his opportunity coming out of nowhere.
(Next: A look at assistant head coach Tony Sparano.)