Longtime Ole Miss assistant Nix promoted to head coach — for a day

Published 11:00 am Monday, August 14, 2023

OXFORD — Ole Miss football suited up for its first scrimmage of the fall training camp on Saturday, but with a twist: assistant head coach Derrick Nix took over as head coach for a day from Lane Kiffin, leading the Rebels for a 24-hour period up to and throughout the scrimmage.

For Kiffin, this was no stunt. This was a chance to give Nix — a now 16-year veteran of the Ole Miss coaching staff — an opportunity in the driver’s seat for real.

“What we did was, 24 hours ago he became the head coach for a 24-hour period,” Kiffin said. “And that was done not as a PR thing, that was really done to give him an opportunity to see what it’s like to learn.”

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For Kiffin, the decision to put Nix in charge stemmed from a discussion years back with his father, legendary coach Monte Kiffin.

“I remember my dad telling me a long time ago to be very grateful for what you have because this has not been a good profession at all for minorities,” Kiffin said. “He used to say all the time, ‘I’m telling you, there’s more Tony Dungys, there’s more Lovie Smiths, there’s more Mike Tomlins that never get the opportunity.’”

Nix, an Alabama native who was a star running back at Southern Miss from 1998-2002, has been at Ole Miss for 16 consecutive seasons as a key assistant coach — an unheard-of streak in the rough-and-tumble business of college football. His tenure has spanned four head coaching regimes.

Nix spent his first 12 seasons coaching the Rebel running backs before moving to coach the wide receivers in Kiffin’s first year in 2020. Last season, Nix was elevated to an assistant head coach in addition to his duties with the wideouts.

“Coach Nix has been here,” Kiffin said. “We’ve been fortunate to keep him here, he’s had a lot of opportunities to leave. I’ve enjoyed working with him, he’s done a great job. But then today, you saw a whole other level out of him of his intensity in meetings last night, the pregame meal with the players, handling depth charts, doing everything. I was inspired listening to him this morning talk to the team. It was really cool to step back and be able to see that.”

The chance for personal and professional development aside, the core reason for putting Nix in charge for a day was simple for Kiffin: seeing is believing.

“You can’t see how good somebody is until you give them a chance to do it,” Kiffin said.

That’s not to say the last 24 hours haven’t been filled with valuable experience for Nix and the entire Rebel staff and team.

“The biggest thing is to be a clear communicator,” Nix said. “That is what I felt out there in the scrimmage, making sure you go back through the plan with a fine-tooth comb, making sure that all the coaches are on the same page. I learned not to just be a wide receiver coach, to look at the other side of the ball, the other positions. You’ve got to be there for everybody.”

The day started in the extreme early hours of the morning on Saturday, all leading up to the scrimmage that was complete with a full simulated pregame process. After the initial shock of the change in leadership, Nix and crew got to work on the gameplan.

“At 3 o’clock in the morning I had to remind myself ‘Hey, this is a scrimmage now,’” Nix said. “I couldn’t sleep. Actually, when Coach Kiffin gave me the news, probably earlier (Friday), my initial thought was pumped up, excited. Got in the staff meeting room and had what I wanted to say, but (my) voice (was) crackling because these are my peers. I got a chance to regroup with the coordinators and put together a plan of what we want to do. Got a chance to sleep over it and went back to it again, and it felt like being at home. Obviously I’ve got a lot to learn, but this was an awesome opportunity.”

Sophomore running back Quinshon Judkins, who also met with the media on Saturday, had high praise for Nix’s skillset as a rounded coach.

“Coach Nix has been a great coach ever since I got here, from the recruiting process, just seeing him on visits with Coach (Kevin) Smith, to when I got here as a freshman and him teaching me how do to certain things,” Judkins said. “Him being a running back coach before I got here, he knows things about the position, so there would be times where I would ask him on certain situations of my game, not even just my freshman year but even now. I think he’s just a great coach all around.”

Nix’s gratitude with the opportunity extended not just to Kiffin, but to Ole Miss in general for his long career as a Rebel.

“We’ve got a solid foundation with Ole Miss and outside of it in this community, and it’s been nothing but a plus for me,” Nix said. “I’ve got to thank God that he put me in a position to be around all these great head coaches, to learn from them, and coordinators as well. I’ve got to say, Ole Miss has been awesome to me.”