Flashback roughly 18 months.
Houston Nutt had just taken over the Ole Miss football program and was searching for a defensive coordinator.
He had lots of viable options, but he was drawn to a young coach he had been watching develop for several years - Tyrone Nix, then the DC at South Carolina who was looking for an out.
"I tried to hire him in 2002," said Nutt. "I like how Tyrone does not flinch and I like the way he coaches. I like the way he handles his staff. It's not about him - he asks for input and is open to help, but he's not afraid to make the final decision.
"I could not be happier with Tyrone Nix."
Now, for reference sake, flashback in Back To The Future style, to last season.
The Rebel defense struggled with the same things all first-year defenses do - terminology. system, fits, calls - but Nix and his staff patiently waded through the rough spots until, at the end of the year, they were a salty bunch, confident and effective.
Back to the present.
Nix, in his second season as the Reb DC, says coaching the 2009 defense is "more enjoyable."
"I see a whole lot more confidence and that has been developed through some success late last year, the understanding of the scheme the players have and giving the type of effort we want to play with," he said. "It is more fun to coach kids who have an understanding of what you want.
"We just had to get to know each other last year and that takes time. A strength we have now that we had to develop is the staff being on the same page and understanding each other. That carried over to our players. They see us in lockstep and they follow suit."
A deeper understanding of the defense will develop into two key ingredients.
One, the players will play more freely. Less thinking and more reacting.
"Tyrone has them playing fast," said Nutt. "It looks like they know what they are doing and are just turning loose now without having to think as much. Players who can react without having to think about something, and hesitate, are much more effective, but that takes time. It does not happen instantly."
Two, the coaches will be more comfortable to add to the defensive scheme.
"As long as they play fast, with outstanding effort, and understand what they are doing, it will allow us to add some things to our package," Nix said. "We have already added more than we had in last year, but we'll keep a close eye on how we are running those things.
"I'm confident they will be able to handle more things in the second year of learning and understanding our system. But the main thing is to run things well."
Universally, coaches often talk about experience being a major component to success. Nix has a fairly solid list of experienced players to work with.
The four top defensive ends, the top three DTs, the top four LBs, and seven secondary players has played a lot of snaps.
"Like I said, the experience these guys have makes it more enjoyable to coach," Nix stated.
Quick Note: Nix, who doubles as the linebacker coach, has two impressive - thus far - freshman to work with - D.T. Shackelford and Joel Kight. Kight, in the early going, is already taking snaps at one outside linebacker slot behind starter Allen Walker. D.T., for now, is working with the third team defense at middle linebacker.
"I'm really excited about them. They are instinctive, they have a desire to get better every rep and they seem to be smart," said Nix. "Thus far, they have not flinched. One mistake does not rattle them much.
"I'm anxious to see them in pads, but so far, so good. I can see a real good future for both of them."
DC Tyrone Nix -
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