Gallagher column: It's a family tradition for new North Rowan coach

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SPENCER — His grandfather was a head football coach. His father was a head football coach. So you know growing up around high school football, Joe Nixon wanted to be one, too.
Well, not really.
“I wanted to be in the NFL,” Nixon says with a smile. “But I wasn’t that good. So I figured I’d go into coaching.”
After eight years as an assistant at West Rowan, one of North Carolina’s top programs, Nixon found himself in Spencer on Monday, being introduced as the Cavaliers’ top man.
His job: make North football as relevant as the school’s state champions in boys basketball and boys track, or the state runnerup wrestling and girls track teams.
Athletic director Bryan Mills says football can join the elite with its new coach.
“This completes the puzzle,” Mills said. “You take his history and his background. He’s been around winners.”
Oh, you want winning? Nixon’s record on the football field as a player and a coach is eye-popping.
After graduating from Clayton High in 1999, he was 39-8 as an All-American offensive lineman at Catawba, finishing under Chip Hester, who has groomed more than a few successful high school coaches.
Nixon’s first coaching assignment was under Scott Young. In eight years, he has been on the winning end of 105 of 117 games. Counting his college days, that’s a record of 144-20 since high school, which should make even Grandpa Glenn and Dad Rich a little envious.
And proud.
“(North) should feel good that their kids are in good hands, regardless of the won-loss record,” Rich said of his boy. “The parents are sending you their prized possessions. You have to teach more than football. Joe’s a real emotional-type coach. He gives everything he’s got out there.”

Rich could see that fire and interest before Joe ever suited up in youth league.
“He’d plop down in front of the television and watch football on ESPN,” said Rich, who added he has a photo of Joe as a child sitting on a football.
“You probably never thought he was small enough to sit on a football,” Rich chuckled.
Rich coached at Athens Drive, got out of teaching, then went to South Johnston as an assistant, the same school that later hired Joe’s brother, David.
“Just passing it down,” Rich said of the family tradition. “We never pushed any kind of sports on him, leaving it up to Joe.”
The elder Nixons have bounced some ideas off Joe, but they’re letting him make his own decisions. Joe was asked what his father and grandfather said about the next step.
“They said, ‘Congratulations … and what did Coach Young say?’ ”

Ah, Scott Young.
This is the man who hired Nixon. Together, they have won 60 of their last 64 games.
“Eight years ago, Coach Young kinda took me under his wing and prepared me for this day,” Nixon said. “I’ve been blessed to be around some good football players and great coaches. We found a way to win some ballgames.
“I played offensive line and coached at West. I think I know a little bit about football. I want to bring it over here and make some good things happen.”
Glenn, now 80, got to two Eastern finals, but never won the big one. His grandson already has three state titles in his back pocket as an assistant. Now, he eventually wants one wearing the green of North Rowan.
“I’m going to take advantage of this great opportunity they’re giving me over here at North,” he said. “I think there’s a ton of talent here. The administration and staff are really good. Community support is good. They’re doing good things in other areas of the athletic program. We’re going to try and bring the football program along. We’re going to start breaking down game film and seeing what we’ve got personnel-wise.”

It was difficult to tell who was beaming more after Monday’s players meeting: Nixon, Mills, principal Darrell McDowell or junior offensive lineman Will Robertson, who is being recruited by Duke, South Çarolina and North Carolina State, among others.
“He knows how to win and hopefully, he’ll bring it over here,” Robertson said. “It will be good for North Rowan. I’ve talked to people at West. I heard that they like him. He does things the right way. That’s what we need.”
It didn’t take long for Nixon to start coaching. He immediately said Robertson needed to gain weight. At 245 pounds, that’s a bit light for the 300-pound Nixon’s tastes.
Nixon, who will finish the year out at West, plans to come over after school. Once the kids are back from Christmas break, they hit the weight room.
“I’m anxious to get to work,” Nixon said.
It’s going to be a Green Christmas at the Nixon household. And Mills wants to quickly to get him out of West Rowan blue and into his new colors.
“I’ve got his sizes and I’ve got some stuff ordered,” Mills smiled.

Nixon was reminded that he actually has some experience as a head coach — the night the Falcons won their eighth straight conference championship.
On Oct. 28 against West Iredell, four days after Young suffered a heart attack, Nixon was put in charge. Young was in the press box while Nixon made the calls on the field.
“That’s still on Coach Young,” Nixon joked. “When it went right, I took the credit for it. When it went bad, Young had to take credit.”
Young was as much involved with Nixon’s decision as Rich or Glenn. There’s a huge difference being an assistant and being the head man.
Nixon recalls their chats.
“(Young) said, ‘Football-wise, you’ll be fine. There will be times you’re not sure what to do as a first-year head coach.’ But he said I was smart enough and I’ll figure it out.”
It seems like a long time ago that Rich took that picture of his little boy sitting on the football. Now, the kid is going to be just like Dad. And Grandpa.
Another Nixon from Johnston County is going to be a head football coach.
“I can’t wait,” Nixon said.
Neither can the North Rowan Cavaliers.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or