Ex-NFL QB Jon Kitna finds post-career joy

(CBS News) TACOMA, Wash. - In the hallways of Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Jon Kitna sounds every bit the football coach he is, having returned to the school he quarterbacked 20 years ago.

The remarkable thing about this coach and algebra teacher is that he didn't need the job at all. Jon Kitna was an NFL quarterback for 16 years, retiring last year from the Dallas Cowboys.

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Patrick Erwin, the principal at Lincoln High, said: "He did not have to come home. He could have stayed in Dallas and made scads of money down there."

But something called Kitna back to this troubled neighborhood and many kids from poor, broken homes.

"I walked these same hallways. I was here. I get it," Kitna said.

"When Jon signed on to be a math teacher here, he said: 'Give me your toughest kids,' and we did," said Principal Erwin.

Students like Rayshaun Miller said they "really didn't care about coming to school."

Kitna scheduled early morning algebra sessions with Miller.

"I started learning how to do math, and I was like, 'Man , this is actually not that bad,'" Miller said. "I'm passing with A's and B's -- like I'm sitting with a 3.0 GPA. Now, I'm like, 'What just happened?'"

Coach Kitna changed more than just Miller's outlook, he's changed his future.

"I probably wasn't gonna get it together and now I have a chance at graduating," Miller said.

"You can't come here and be fake," Kitna said. "They smell it. They smell it as soon as you come walking to the building if you're fake. And I just try to be as authentic and real with them as I can."

The principal is now becoming familiar with something called "the Kitna effect" -- an ability to reach those others have not.

"When I went in to watch him teach, I mean, I saw kids who were doing math that I've seen sit in other classrooms and never lift a pencil," Principal Erwin said.

Kitna is generating more than good feelings. His algebra class is the second-highest scoring period in the entire school.

"I've always felt like there's much more greatness in these halls and in this building then people realize," Kitna said.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.

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