COLLEGE STATION — Dat Nguyen grew into Texas A&M's all-time leading tackler and one of the Aggies' most decorated and popular players in history by using his head and hands.
He has used his head plenty the last three years as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, but without his own unit to lead. Nguyen is ready to use those valuable hands again on the football field. That's why he has walked away from a two-year contract extension that would have meant working the same ol' gig.
“I want to grow as a coach,” said Nguyen, who has cleaned out his Cowboys office. “I want to be more hands-on, and be more accountable to players.”
Nguyen, 34, has been with the Cowboys since they made him a third-round NFL draft selection in 1999. First as a standout middle linebacker over seven years who led the team in tackles in three of his last five seasons. In 2007 he became Dallas' assistant linebackers and defensive quality control coach. Three years later, with no foreseeable advancement in the Cowboys organization in the near future, Nguyen said it was simply time to move on.
“I didn't think I'd have the chance to grow like I had envisioned as a young coach,” Nguyen said, adding that a big part of his time was spent at a computer and doing clerical work. “They offered me an extension. I just didn't see where staying with the Cowboys was going to help me accomplish what I want to accomplish.”
And that's teaching young football players. Hands on.
“I definitely want to be in coaching; it's a part of my life,” he said. “I want to make differences in kids' lives.”
Nguyen, a Rockport-Fulton graduate who led the Aggies to their lone Big 12 championship in 1998, referenced working with “kids,” so I asked him the obvious question — considering some NFL players are older than him.
Yes, he'd love to coach in college. Where is to be determined. He loves his old school, but Nguyen declined to discuss any specifics about where he hopes to wind up, adding only that he and his wife, Becky, would enjoy returning to Aggieland “someday.”
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