We take a closer look today at a key member of Ole Miss' staff.
Coach: Tyrone Nix
Position: Defensive coordinator and linebackers
Experience: He's entering his fourth season on the Ole Miss staff and was promoted to assistant head coach in January 2010. Prior to coming to Oxford, Nix was the defensive coordinator at South Carolina for three seasons from 2005-07 under Steve Spurrier. Nix spent 10 years on the Southern Miss staff from 1995-2004 and coached every position on defense. During his final four seasons at Southern Miss, he was the Golden Eagles' defensive coordinator. Ole Miss has finished among the top 20 teams nationally in tackles for loss all three of Nix's seasons as defensive coordinator.
Of note: The Rebels have generated more than 30 sacks in each of Nix's three seasons as defensive coordinator. They finished with 31 last season, 36 in 2009 and 39 in 2008. ... Nix, 38, got his first job as a defensive coordinator in 2001 at Southern Miss when he was just 29, making him the youngest Division I-A defensive coordinator in the country. ... In 2003, Nix was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation's top assistant coach. ... He played collegiately at Southern Miss from 1990-93 and was a standout linebacker. He was inducted in 2003 into the Southern Miss M-Club Hall of Fame. ... Former Florida coach Urban Meyer tried to hire Nix as the Gators' defensive coordinator when Charlie Strong took the head coaching job at Louisville following the 2009 season, but Nix stayed put at Ole Miss and received a hefty raise. He made $500,000 last season and will earn $550,000 in 2011.
His challenge: The Ole Miss defense took it on the chin last season, finishing 11th in the SEC in total defense and giving up just under 400 yards per game. Not much went right for Nix and the Rebels' defense, which was decimated by injuries and inexperience in the secondary. The Rebels gave up 24 touchdown passes and intercepted only six passes. Nix's first order of business in 2011 is seeing to it that his team rekindles that same edge and attacking, aggressive style that epitomized the 2008 and 2009 Ole Miss defensive units. Somewhere along the way, the Rebels lost that edge a year ago. And as linebackers coach, Nix faces a major rebuilding task. His top returning defender, junior D.T. Shackelford, tore up his knee in the spring and isn't expected back this season. Shackelford was the Rebels' weak side linebacker and also lined up some at defensive end. If that's not enough, sophomore linebacker Clarence Jackson was kicked off the team in May following his second arrest in nine months. Jackson ended the spring as the starter at weak side linebacker. The Rebels had already lost a pair of senior starters at linebacker from a year ago -- Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker. Nix is high on sophomore Mike Marry and junior Joel Kight, but there's not much in the way of proven depth at linebacker. Incoming true freshman C.J. Johnson will almost certainly have to play right away. It helps that defensive end Kentrell Lockett was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, but he's coming off a serious knee injury. The Rebels could really use big years from a couple of junior college transfers, namely nose guard Gilbert Pena and cornerback Wesley Pendleton, and it's a defense that needs something good to happen early to help build some momentum. Last season, it was just the opposite. The bottom fell out in that season-opening 49-48 overtime loss to Jacksonville State, and it was a struggle the rest of the way for Nix's guys.