For the past month, he’s been pulling double duty as the Purple Devils’ head football and softball coach.
The Lady Purple Devils’ final practice before meeting up with South Lamar in the AHSAA Class 1A North Central regional tournament at Liberty Park was set for a 5 p.m. start. That’s right after Ragland’s spring football practice.
“It’s been tough juggling the two,” Nix said. “It really has. But both teams and all the coaches understand.”
Nix, who has guided the top-ranked Lady Purple Devils to two consecutive state championships, took over for former Ragland football coach Brian Mintz about a month ago. Mintz retired back in January to focus on raising his new daughter, 17-month old MeiLeigh, whom he and his wife Kim adopted from China early last football season.
“We’d been in the process of adopting for nearly six years. So it made sense and it happened to be timely,” Mintz said of his retirement.
Mintz spent 27 seasons in the coaching profession, including 11 at Ragland. The Mintzes brought up their three sons, Matthew (24), Michael (21) and John Mark (19). Mintz said he and his wife felt God led them to adopt.
They wanted an infant but ran into difficulties adopting an American child due to their age.
“It’s an opportunity to give back some of the many riches we’ve been we’ve been blessed with,” Mintz said.
Mintz said he’s certain that Ragland’s football team, which he guided to an appearance in the Class 1A state semifinals where they lost to eventual state champion Marion County, is in good hands.
Nix was a head football coach at Class 3A Ashville for three years before coming to Ragland three years ago. He shared the defensive coordinating responsibilities with Rush Rutledge, Ragland’s head girls basketball coach, before being hired as the head football coach.
He was named the Class 1A Assistant Coach of the Year by the Alabama High School Football Coaches Association, Mintz said.
The Lady Purple Devils have won 11 of their last 11, heading into their matchup against No. 3 South Lamar. The game is a rematch between two teams which squared off against each other in the first round of the regional tournament and the final of the state tournament last year.
Jacksonville Christian faces No. 5 Lynn to open the regional tournament. Faith Christian will open up with Meek in the double elimination affair. The tournament also includes second-ranked Parrish.
“We play the regional like it’s the state tournament,” Nix said. “We believe the 1A state champion is going to come out of the North Central regional.”
His teams’ ability to tunnel its focus on the game ahead has been what’s led Nix to believe they can pull off a three-peat.
“They do a good job of staying in the moment,” he said “Each year, me and Rush say, ‘Well, they won it last year, how are we going to motivate them this year?’. But they’re goal-oriented and they want it.”
They’ve added another big bat to their lineup in the form of 1A Player of the Year Emily Church. Church returned from a knee injury that kept her out since basketball season. They won’t have shortstop Madison Oliver, an all-state performer. She tore her ACL in March and is still recovering from surgery.
“We’ve had some young kids step up,” Nix said.
The Purple Devils key victories this season include Cherokee County Invitational tournament title. They defeated Oak Grove, ranked No. 5 in Class 4A, twice. They also won both games of a doubleheader against Lynn with a come-from-behind victory in the second game.
“You never really know what kind of team you have until they have to fight from behind to pull out a victory,” Nix said.
Nix won’t have to worry about not having anyone who can relate to his struggle as he transitions into his new role.
His assistants on the football staff include Rutledge, Andy Eden, Tim Chambless and Ryan McCoy, all of whom coach multiple sports. If the run Ragland sports has had this school year with the boys basketball team reaching the regional final, the girls hoops squad reaching the state semis and the baseball team advancing the second round is any indication, he should be fine.
“It’s really about unity,” Nix said. “Not one coach on any staff pulls a kid to the side and says, ‘You should just play football’ or ‘You should just play baseball or basketball. We all help each other.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.