Jon Kitna’s career has been a circuitous journey. He played in the NFL 14 seasons for four different teams. Since he retired from playing in 2011 he’s had multiple coaching stints from high school up to the NFL.
Here’s a look back at Kitna’s career including last year when he mentored Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to his best season in the NFL.
Kitna never planned on playing in NFL
Coming out of college, Jon Kitna had no NFL expectations. Literally. He didn’t even consider playing in the NFL despite amassing 4,616 passing yards on 364-of-576 completions (63.1%), 42 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in the 1995 season when he guided the Central Washington University Wildcats to the NAIA Football National Championship.
Thinking his football career was over, Kitna earned his math education degree and began applying for high-school coaching jobs. His future as a high school coach suddenly changed when Seattle Seahawks head coach Dennis Erickson visited the campus to give a tryout for his nephew, a receiver on the Central Washington team.
During the drills, Kitna’s arm impressed Erickson. The Seahawks signed him as an undrafted free agent to attend the 1996 training camp. This unknown talent surprised many just by making the practice squad. Before the end of his rookie season, he headed off to play in NFL Europe.
In Europe, Kitna made the most out of his opportunity as he led the Barcelona Dragons to a 38-24 win over the Rhein Fire in the 1997 NFL Europe championship game. Kitna earned game MVP honors.
A surprising career in the NFL
For two seasons in Seattle, Kitna saw little to no playing time backing up future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon. His first real game action came at the end of the 1998 where he started the final five games.
In 1999, Kitna surprised a lot of naysayers finishing the season with 3,346 yards, 270-of-495 completions (54.5%), 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. More impressively, Kitna led the Seahawks to the playoffs for the first time since 1988. They lost in the wild card game to the Miami Dolphins.
Kitna remained one more season in Seattle before moving east to Cincinnati. His five seasons with the Bengals were very Bengal-like. The team struggled to put up victories despite Kitna having some individual success, especially in 2003, where he had 3,591 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The team finished 8-8 that season.
For the next five seasons (2006-2011) Kitna played for the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. He led the NFL in two categories in 2006, his first season with Detroit, including most completions with 372, and most sacks, at an unbelievable 63 times. The team finished 3-13.
In 2011, Kitna announced his retirement, ending his unexpected career after 15 seasons. Or at least he thought he did.
Cowboys call Kitna out of retirement
When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered a back injury and doctors ruled him out for the rest of the 2013 season, the club reviewed all of its options. After working out David Carr, Tyler Thigpen, John Skelton and Richard Bartel, the team reached out to the 41-year-old Kitna who hadn’t played in two years.
Kitna, who had been coaching and teaching math at his high school alma mater, Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., agreed to join the team. The father of four, whose son was the starting quarterback for the team, told Dallas head coach Jason Garrett he was ready.
Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett
He said he would run scout team for the high school team and give them a really good look like he gave us great looks when he was here. So he’s a very active guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. And he’s certainly very young at heart.
Kitna, who served as the second-string quarterback behind Kyle Orton, never saw any action in Philadelphia as America’s Team took on the Eagles in the regular-season finale with a playoff berth on the line. Despite not playing, Kitna received a game check of $53,000. He donated all of it to his high school.
Where is Jon Kitna today?
After his final game playing in 2013, Kitna returned to high school coaching at Waxahachie High School in Texas, just south of Dallas. He stayed there for three years before moving to Arizona where he coached at a private school.
Before the 2019 season, Kitna experienced a case of deja vu. The Cowboys were calling again. This time they didn’t want him to play quarterback. They wanted him to coach them, specifically mentor third-year quarterback Dak Prescott. Kitna jumped at the chance. In 2019, the move appeared to pay off as Prescott had his best season in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Prescott’s individual success didn’t translate to overall team success. Kitna’s time with the Cowboys came to an end in January of this year when new head coach Mike McCarthy announced the team was moving in a different direction.
He didn’t stay out of work long. In March, Burleson ISD, located south of Fort Worth, announced Kitna as the new Burleson High School head coach.
Kitna has once again returned to life as a high school coach. A life he dreamed of when he finished up his college eligibility. How long he stays there remains a question. Probably until the next time the Cowboys call.