Earlier this summer, Virginia Tech football had a problem (well, there were many problems) when one of its coaching positions was empty. Following Galen Scott’s resignation, the Hokies needed a new safeties coach to fill the void. On June 14, head coach Justin Fuente announced Tyrone Nix as the man for the job.
“First of all, for Coach Fuente to give me this opportunity was really special,” said Nix when he talked to media for the first time at Monday’s press conference. “I’ve known him for quite some years now.”
Nix boasts an impressive resume, beginning with his playing days as a standout linebacker at Southern Mississippi, where he was teammates with Super Bowl Champion Brett Favre for a year. The Attalla, Alabama native was selected to the All-South team and the National Independent squad during his junior and senior seasons in 1992 and 1993.
Nix began coaching the defensive tackles at Southern Miss in 1995 under Jeff Bower, the same coach he played under for four seasons. Before jumping around and coaching different positions, Bower named Nix defensive coordinator in 2001, making him the youngest coordinator in Division 1-A at just 29 years old. In 2003, Nix was named a Broyles Award finalist, which honors college football’s top assistant coach.
Nix’s coaching journey took him on stints in the SEC at South Carolina from 2005-2007 and Ole Miss from 2008-2011, where he even rose to associate head coach in Oxford under Houston Nutt. After Nutt was fired from Ole Miss, Nix was hired by Middle Tennessee State University, again taking over the reins as the defensive coordinator.
It was during Nix’s time at MTSU that he began to develop a relationship with Fuente, the man who coached another in-state school in Memphis. The series between the two sides ended in 2014, which allowed Fuente and Nix to pick each other’s mind.
“After the series ended, coach Fuente and the staff that I knew, we shared ideas and some things and some tendencies that we saw within their offense and some things he saw within my defense,” Nix said. “It kind of created a relationship with he and I at that moment.”
The Southern Mississippi alumnus also developed several key connections with members on the Virginia Tech coaching staff along the years.
“There’s a lot of guys on this staff who I communicated with and one of them is James Shibest,” Nix said. “Shibest and I remained friends for years and we worked together back at Ole Miss. Probably the other relationship I had was with Coach (Bud) Foster. My first year in coaching I came up and visited with him in 1995. Throughout the years we’ve kept a connection and communication with each other. Shared ideas, and me getting ideas from him. This game is a different business. You never know where you’re going to end up.”
Nix finally got back into a Power Five Conference in 2017 when he was hired at Texas A&M as the Senior Defensive Analyst. Still, Nix yearned to get back to a more hands on role as a coordinator. Little did Nix know that the exact opportunity he was looking for would happen just a year later.
“I really felt like it was important to get somebody else in the room that had to think about it from a broad perspective before,” said Fuente when talking about what he was looking for in Galen Scott’s replacement. “That was one of the things that I thought would be beneficial in my conversations with Bud (Foster) about what we needed. We need a guy that had some experience and had to think about the big picture before and that fit in with our guys. Brian Mitchell needed to be comfortable, Charley (Wiles) needed to be comfortable. Chemistry is important. I wanted somebody with regional ties, I didn’t think traveling to California for somebody like that was a good idea for us. I think it all worked out really well.
“Between the people I know in this business really well, my limited interaction with him before we had a position open, and after we had an opening… I thought that he was the perfect fit for us.”
Fuente was looking for not just a position coach, but someone who had been more involved in the overall process by concocting game plans on a weekly basis during the season. Nix checked all the boxes. Ever since he was hired, he’s fit like a glove into the Hokies’ system with what Bud Foster is trying to do defensively.
“He fits in great,” said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. “When you have a guy that has as much knowledge and experience as he has… you’re not sitting there talking a foreign language with him.”
“He’s got a tremendous amount of experience,” Fuente said. “He’s coached in or done just about everything in terms of schematically. He certainly has a presence about him. He’s demanding and holds those guys accountable. I think he’s exactly what we needed. We’re happy to have him on board. He certainly has those kids’ ears in the back end. Instant credibility when he walks in the room. Those guys are responding and learning from him.”
Nix takes over a group at the safety position that holds some experience unlike other parts of the defense. Rover Reggie Floyd headlines the unit and will be joined by either Divine Deablo or Khalil Ladler at the free safety position. Nix’s main unit is wrapped up by whip linebacker/nickelback Devon Hunter. Those guys have gotten the first taste of Nix’s tenure at Virginia Tech, and the initial results have come back positive.
“He’s going to coach you hard,” Ladler said. “He’s going to try to put you in the right position to make right plays.”
“You can tell he knows a lot,” Deablo said. “I like the energy he brings into the position room.”
“He’s a great coach,” Hunter said. “When he came in there, he told me what I had to do, what I had to get better at. It just stuck with me from there. Every day at practice I just work on that.”
Ladler, Deablo, and Hunter all joked during the press conference, remembering how big Nix was when they first met him. Nix’s frame made such an impression on Deablo that he says he thought that Nix might have been a player at first. Needless to say, Virginia Tech fans and coaches couldn’t care less about Nix’s size on the sidelines, only hoping he can bring big results to the safeties who will suit up in maroon and orange in 2018.