IRVING, Texas – Coach Bill Parcells still maintains a relationship with the All-Pro tight end he helped draft in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
Jason Witten received a call after his spleen injury earlier this year from Parcells, who coached the Cowboys from 2003-06 and was instrumental in the tight end's development. The call went a little differently than it would have if Parcells was still coaching the team.
"He was like my dad, 'Take care of yourself now,' and, 'Be smart.' Where was this guy 10 years ago when I had the broken jaw?" Witten joked. "It didn't seem like that was the same response. But obviously he had an important part of my development as a young player from day one, and I had a long way to go as a player, but he believed in me and told me, 'If you trust me, I know the formula for tight ends.' I was just willing to work, and he taught me a lot.
"I hopefully have made him proud over the years."
After 10 years with the same team, Witten's on his way to setting the single-season record for most catches in a season. That seemed nearly impossible after a rough start to the year following the spleen injury, when the hardnosed Parcells gave him a call with a lighter and more compassionate tone than he would have used if he was still coaching.
"I spoke to him briefly, and I still keep in touch with him," Witten said. "It's not like it was a special call about that. I keep up with him from time to time. He loves the game, and he's had a huge impact on a lot of guys' careers. He still cares about you, so I use him as a resource and bounce ideas and thoughts and talk to him like a friend."
Parcells wanted tough, gritty players on his team. He was uncompromising in his approach, and Witten said the lessons he learned in his early years guided him to becoming one of the league's all-time greats. Witten said he was fortunate to be drafted to play for a coach who realized the importance of being a complete tight end.
"That was the first year in '03, and he was trying to make sure to develop guys, just like you see our staff do with young players, and I was fortunate to be one of those guys and had a desire to be good," Witten said. "But it's not like I was his guy and he patty-caked me the whole first year. It was a rough year, for sure."
While the styles may differ between Parcells and Jason Garrett, Witten said he respects both coaches and offered some encouraging sentiments toward his current head coach.
"I've said it all along, Jason's one of the best coaches I've been around," Witten said. "I've been fortunate to have had a lot of good coaches. His message, his ability to stay the course and kind of eliminate all the outside stuff, good or bad, is something I haven't ever seen before.