A Warhawk Nation conversation with Leon Lett

Former NFL defensive lineman Leon Lett, a Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys, is now part of the ULM coaching staff. Lett will coach defensive tackles this season. Warhawk Nation editor Paul Letlow enjoyed a recent chat with Lett over a barbeque lunch. They talked about this pro career, his coaching aspirations and his first impressions of northeastern Louisiana.

Letlow: What motivated you to follow Coach Berry to ULM from UNLV?

Lett: I got a chance to watch Coach Berry in action last year as an offensive coordinator. Those guys just loved him, and I did too, just watching him. He's strictly business, but he's still a player's coach. Guys work hard for him and his philosophy. In games, I saw how he set up plays during a game. I could see him setting up the defensive end. It was great. I think he saw the same things in me -- a guy who was willing to learn. I'm just appreciative he gave me the opportunity.

Letlow: You enjoyed a long, productive NFL career. You won Super Bowls and went to Pro Bowls. That's football at the highest level. What made you decide to go back to get your degree and get into coaching? That can be a hard life.

Lett: It is a hard life, but even when I played, I was part coach. I learned that from guys who coached me when I first got into the league. The Jim Jeffcoats, the Tony Tolberts, they learned it from the Randy Whites and Harvey Martins and Ed Jones. They got it from Bob Lilly. It was passed down, and they wanted to win. When I got there, they were all willing to teach me and give me the tricks of the trade. I continued to pass that down. I think I still see that in a Demarcus Ware and a Jason Hatcher. He and I communicate a lot by text before the games. It's something that has been in me. It started with a dream for me.

Lett: What's the biggest lesson you learned playing in the NFL?

Letlow: At the end of the day, it's all football. It was still fun. Later on down the line, it became work and business. It wasn't as fun. One of the things I would always give to a guy is go out and have fun. It's still a game. You want to perform at the highest level, but you still want to have fun.

Letlow: You arrived right on time with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, didn't you?

Lett: The amazing thing about it is, I grew up a Cowboys fan. Being from Mobile, I grew up half a Saints fan and half a Cowboys fan. The Cowboys happened to be on TV every week. I watched Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett. Robert Newhouse. I can go down the line. Tony Hill. Drew Pearson. Those were my heroes. When I got into college, I still followed the Cowboys, even after the strike season. They weren't very good. Coming out of college, I wasn't thinking Cowboys and had no contact with the Cowboys. When I got that call, it was like a dream come true. I knew their players from TV. I remembered watching them. Going into the locker room in '91, I was kind of in awe. I was still afraid of not knowing if I could compete at that level, until that first day of minicamp. I got a chance to line up against big Nate Newton, and I beat him with a two step move. I knew then that I a chance to compete.

Letlow: You will serve as the pro liaison for ULM players. What do you tell guys when they work out on Pro Day?

Lett: Just relax. Go out there and compete against yourself. Try and get better every day. If you don't do well this pro day, you still have an opportunity. Continue to get better every day. The thing I learned is to compete against yourself. If you compete against another guy, that guy might not be where you need to be to get where you want to go.

Letlow: Talk about your transition into the day-to-day life of coaching.

Lett: I definitely want to be fully dedicated to the coaching side of it. I'm learning the administrative side of it now. Some of the things you have to do that I had no idea had anything to do with putting a football team on the field. But it's very important to get those things done to have a good football team.

Letlow: Your football celebrity can be an asset recruiting for ULM, right?

Lett: I got a chance to talk to some of the recruits this season and I wanted to make sure they know it's important to have that dream to go to the next level. You don't want to kill that dream and say that only a certain percentage of them make it. I heard that. Even after you play the game for 11 years, you are still young. Even if you play to Brett Favre's age, you're young. You still want to have something to do that means something to you. For me, being part of a team is the most positive thing that has happened to me. It was important to finish that degree. I tell them that they've got a chance to do it now at this age. For most of them, it's paid for. To go back, you have to pay for it and it's not cheap.

Letlow: You finished your degree after your NFL career. What was that experience like?

Lett: You look at these 18 to 21-year olds, with all that energy. Here I am, the old guy. I was still kind of nervous about it. It was a very humbling experience.

Letlow: What are your impressions of the players at ULM?

Lett: I see some athletic ability. I see some guys who are going to have to work really hard to get better and compete. We have a recruiting class coming in that I think is going to be very good. Some of those guys are going to challenge.

Letlow: How have you been received by the other staff members?

Lett: I can't thank them enough for the help they've given me. I appreciate how open they've been with me as I learn more about coaching.

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