BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bryan Nixon has won nearly 90 games in 12 years at Centennial High, a winning percentage most coaches would pay for. He's beloved by Golden Hawks past and present and had no reason to leave the school.
No reason, that is, until last month, when his son Jace, 7, told him next to the Christmas tree that he and his friends were going to play football for Liberty.
This came as no big surprise to Nixon, considering his family lives in the Liberty district, but Jace's next statement caught him off-guard.
"He said, 'So, if I'm playing for Liberty against Centennial, and you're coaching Centennial, who do you root for?" Bryan Nixon said. "I said, 'Well, I root for Centennial and hope you have a great game.'
"He said, 'You'd root against my team?' And it just got me thinking that I never wanted that to be the situation."
That leads us to Friday's news: Nixon, who only interviewed for the job Wednesday, has been hired as the new football coach at Liberty, the chief rival of the school he left.
"It's a great place for me," he said.
Little did Jace know last month that the former football coach at Liberty, Tony Mills, had stepped down just the week before. And little did either Nixon know that an independent studies teacher at Liberty had just retired.
Nixon happens to teach independent studies.
In 12 years at Centennial, Nixon compiled an 89-52-1 record and reached two Central Section championship games, including the Division I title game in 2009. He sent numerous players to Division I college, including current USC quarterback Cody Kessler and Utah linebacker Jared Norris.
“It was hard to tell the guys I was leaving,” Nixon said. “It was very emotional. That was the hardest part.”
Centennial’s athletic director, Becky Porter, is moving at the end of the month. Her interim replacement, Wayne Cherry, said he would assist Centennial principal Steve Wedel in searching for Nixon’s replacement.
“We haven’t got a timetable, but Mr. Wedel will start looking pretty quick,” Cherry said. “I feel good for Bryan. He made a decision based on his family, so that’s a good deal for him. And I’m sure we’ll get somebody good.”
Liberty won a Yosemite Small Division title (the equivalent of Division II) in 2001, but it has never played for a D-I title. Mills reached the semifinals twice in his five years at the helm.
“(Nixon) fits all our needs,” Liberty athletic director Tim Davis said. “He’s a great coach, a great family man and a great role model for our kids. He fits the bill in every way.”
Liberty will play at Centennial in an emotional Freedom Bowl to end the regular season this year. Nixon said he’ll deal with that when it arrives.
“It’s Liberty-Centennial. It’s a great rivalry,” he said. “But it’s about the kids, not anything else. I hope I can hug and love on those guys like any other time.”
Then, in a few years, Jace will suit up for the Patriots and Nixon won’t ever have to answer the Christmas tree question.
“It’s tough leaving a place like Centennial, but I’m excited about this new journey,” he said. “Hopefully I can spend another 12 great years here.”