Catching Up with Chad Hennings

Chad Hennings was far from your average NFL rookie. After all, he came to the Cowboys in 1992 after completing his four-year service commitment in the Air Force.

Hennings was a rock-solid presence at defensive tackle for America's Team and a component of that stifling defense that was one of many strengths those three Super Bowl teams from the 1990s had.

All told, he spent nine seasons in the NFL before a neck injury led him to call it quits in 2000.

After his time in the league, he did some work in TV and radio and is now a motivational speaker, running Hennings Management Corporation, a marketing and management consulting company, and he is also a principal in TRW, a business dealing in rock retaining walls.

The Ranch Report recently caught up with him by phone and here's what he had to say:

The Ranch Report: How do you view your nine seasons as a Cowboy?
Hennings: I didn't come to the Cowboys from the normal route that most players take, coming directly out of college or being a free agent signing from another team in the NFL. I came from the Air Force where I was quote or unquote, in the real world for a period of four years before coming to the NFL. I think it gave me a different perspective on playing in the National Football League as well as playing professional athletics for the Dallas Cowboys.

I was a little bit older than the other rookies that I was there with in my class. It was a difficult experience for me. It was a challenging experience for me, going from having not playing football for four years and then leaving a level of competition at the collegiate level to play at the professional level, where truly guys are bigger, faster and stronger. It was a challenge. There was a considerable amount of rust and I probably never got confident in my ability until towards the end of my rookie year if not midway through my second year with the Cowboys.

So, and then having the early success that we did, I got spoiled with having the three Super Bowls in four years. I was spoiled with getting used to how easy it really came. It was a neat experience. I really got a taste of what Texas and particularly, what the Dallas area thinks about football and how meaningful it is to a lot of the football fans and Cowboy fans in the area. I really got a taste of truly how iconic the Dallas Cowboys really are, not only in the United States but having played in different America Bowls all over the world, how recognizable that Dallas star really is.

Chad Hennings celebrates a 9-yard sack on quarterback Neil O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XXX. (Getty Images)
The Ranch Report: What are your thoughts on this being the final year of Texas Stadium?
Hennings: The stadium, it should be a national landmark, at least for all the fans that there has been a lot of football played at that stadium, a lot of different events and a lot of history, especially for the Dallas Cowboys franchise. It will be a bittersweet time I'm sure for a lot of former players as well as fans because there are a lot of great memories there. It's great for the franchise to go and play in the new stadium in Arlington but it will be a bittersweet day for a lot of people, myself included when they play that last game there. But I'll always have my memories and always have it in my mind, those experiences that I had and the relationships that I forged there on that gridiron.

The Ranch Report: How tough was it for you to retire in 2000?
Hennings: Well, my goal was that I wanted to play 10 years. I made it to nine but because of the cervical fusion that I had in my neck, I think the good Lord made it intuitively obvious to me that it was time to put the cleats up and go do something else. So, the actual decision was an easy one for me. With the quality of life and my future, it was easy. Football was never per se a drug to me where I had to do it or if I had a chance to do it, I just wouldn't be complete without it. I think that was a blessing to me to have that experience in the Air Force prior to my Cowboy experience to give me a different perspective on my priorities and so on in life.

The Ranch Report: One of your fellow Air Force graduates, Beau Morgan, is doing TV work. Do you plan to get back into that again?
Hennings: No, I have no desire to do that. It's neat but there are so many other things I want to accomplish in my life apart from football. Football was a part, a piece of the puzzle but there are so many other things that I want to accomplish and do. Commentating or studio work is not one of those.

The Ranch Report: What about coaching?
Hennings: Coaching, no (isn't something that interests me). Again, kind of been there and done that. I want take the focus where my passion would be, to work with kids and teach kids one-on-tone to talk to them and what not. As far as being a coach as a profession, again (I have) no desire at this point in my career to do that.

The Ranch Report: Talk about the motivational speaking you do.
Hennings: I view a lot of my experiences in life from the Air Force Academy, growing up in Iowa to flying jets for the Air Force to playing for the Cowboys as a means to an end not an end to itself. So, I take a lot of the experiences that I had and a lot of life's lessons that I have learned and express them in a form that's motivational to people as well as humorous as well as teaching life's lessons through the experiences that I've had in sport as well as in the military. I enjoy it. It's an opportunity for me to interact with people and that's a great outlet for me to express myself and continue be able to give back to the community.

The Ranch Report: Which of your former NFL teammates are you closest with?
Hennings: I forged a lot of great relationships. It's one of those things like I'm going to my 20th reunion from graduating from college. It's been 20 years already. I view a lot of relationships with those guys the same as the ones that I have with guys from the Cowboys. Even though I might not have seen some of the guys for years, you pick up right where you left off (when you do see them again).

I think the guys that I'm closest to are guys like John Gesek, who I shared a lot of time with my first three years with Dallas and a lot of my fellow defensive linemen from Russell Maryland, Leon Lett, Tony Tolbert and even to Charles (Haley) and Tony Casillas. We had a lot of great memories and great experiences. I enjoy talking to them about where they're at in their life now as dads, husbands and businessmen. It's fun to go back and talk about old days too but it's about, hey, what are you doing now? That's what we're talking about, what we're doing now.

To learn more about what Chad Hennings is up to these days, visit his website at www.chadhennings.com.

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