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IRVING, Tex. - The Dallas Cowboys' loss is Texas A&M's gain.

One of the most popular players in Cowboys history is leaving the Dallas coaching staff and returning to College Station, where he earned legend status as an All-America linebacker for the Aggies who finished his career as the school's all-time leader in tackles and won a Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year award, the Bednarik Award (given annually to the college defensive player of the year) and the Lombardi Award (best college lineman or linebacker) in 1998.

Dat Nguyen spent the last three seasons as an assistant linebackers coach and defensive quality control coach with the Cowboys, and reportedly was offered a contract extension that would have kept him in Valley Ranch for two more seasons, but chose instead to return to his alma mater, where he will coach inside linebackers.

"The fact that Dat was a great player for the Texas Aggies and the Dallas Cowboys had considerably less to do with his hiring," Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman said in a statement released by the school's athletic department. "It was the fact that he thoroughly impressed me in two separate interviews, one in Dallas on Wednesday of last week, and one in College Station on Thursday. His intelligence, knowledge and passion for the game are what impressed me most.

"It was also evident to me while listening to him during the interview that he has played and coached with some of the finest defensive head coaches in the game of football, namely R.C. Slocum, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips. He evidently has paid attention through the years."

That has always been Nguyen's reputation throughout his career.

When he arrived in College Station as undersized, lightly recruited freshman, Nguyen absorbed the Aggie defensive playbook and started every game in his college career. He essentially moved into the weight room and ate everything that wasn't bolted down, and remains the only player in Texas A&M history to lead the Aggies in tackles four times.

When the Cowboys drafted Nguyen in the third round of the 1999 draft, many were skeptical, acknowledging that while he had put together a magnificent college career, Nguyen surely was too small to succeed at the NFL level. But he made an impact right from the start, leading his team in special teams tackles as a rookie and entrenching himself in the lineup as the Cowboys' starting middle linebacker in his second season. The NFL's first player of Vietnamese ancestry, Nguyen's career was cut short by injuries, but his résumé includes 665 career tackles — he led the team in tackles in three of his last five seasons — and six sacks and seven interceptions.

The defense Nguyen will be teaching in College Station is different from the one in which he played as a college player. At A&M and with the Cowboys, he played in the middle of a 4-3 defense, but under Sherman, the Aggies now run the same 3-4 alignment Nguyen has coached in Dallas.

"For him to rise his senior year toward being one of the country's best linebackers is a credit to his discipline, focus and determination," Sherman said. "To ultimately get drafted by the Dallas Cowboys is just another example of how this Texas high school football player realized his goals through hard work and commitment. He made the most out of his opportunity and should prove to be a valuable lesson to both recruits and players."

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