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Published on Oct 3, 2008
Dat Tan Nguyen (pronounced /WIN/) (Vietnamese: Nguyễn Tấn Đạt, born on September 25, 1975 in Fort Chaffee, Arkansas) is the first Vietnamese American to play in the National Football League. He played for the Dallas Cowboys and is currently their assistant linebackers and defensive quality control coach.
Dat Nguyen battled the perception that he was too small to play linebacker for as long as he was involved in the game, despite his muscular 5'11", 238 pound frame. As a college freshman, he was known as "Fat" Nguyen, but added muscle and became an NFL prospect. Proving critics wrong at an early stage, he proceeded to leave Texas A&M University as the Aggies' career record holder with 51 consecutive starts, 517 career tackles and a 10.7 tackles-per-game average. His 517 career tackles is currently an Aggie record.
In 1998, he was named an All-American and won the Bednarik Award as well as the Lombardi Award.
Despite such an illustrious collegiate career, the "undersized" criticism was still heard from NFL personnel.
The Cowboys went ahead and drafted the most productive linebacker in Texas A&M history in the third round (85th overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft. Nguyen made an impact with the Cowboys from the very beginning, leading the team in special-teams stops as a rookie and becoming Dallas' starting middle linebacker in his second professional season. Dat would be a perfect fit for the Cowboys defensive scheme. Possessing great speed and range for an linebacker, Dat was a sideline to sideline defender able to transition seamlessly into Dallas's version of 4-3 scheme defense. Slightly undersized by traditional standards for the Middle Linebacker position, he possessed tremendous form and excellent explosion at the point of attack. He was as adept at filling the gaps and stopping the run as he was in pass coverage.
In 2001, he completed his first full season as a starting NFL middle linebacker and silenced the critics by recording 112 tackles. Nguyen was a fan favorite throughout his career.
In 2003, with Nguyen leading the team in tackles, his Dallas Cowboys were the most effective defense in the NFL by a very wide margin; several interviews questioned his being left off the Pro Bowl roster.
In May 2004, Nguyen was awarded a Golden Torch Award at the Vietnamese American National Gala in Washington, D.C.
He officially retired from the NFL on March 3, 2006, after a neck injury that hindered his 2005 performance failed to improve. Nguyen led the team in tackles three times, in 2001, 2003, and 2004, and amassed a stellar 516 tackles in 7 seasons, despite missing half of two separate seasons to injury.
Nguyen and wife Becky have two daughters.
In February 2007, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips announced the hiring of Nguyen as assistant linebackers coach / defensive quality control coach. Along with Phillips' son Wes, Nguyen was the first assistant hired under Phillips