Ole Miss lost a key piece of its coaching staff last week. Longtime assistant, wide receivers coach Derrick Nix left to become Auburn’s new offensive coordinator. Now, roughly a week later, Lane Kiffin has found his replacement. Illinois’ George McDonald will be taking over the same position in Oxford, as well as being the passing game coordinator.
While the hire may surprise some Rebel fans, as there was some hope that they’d look at hiring a former player to fill the role, McDonald is more than accomplished and has seen success at nearly every level of football. Along the same lines, the move may also surprise some Fighting Illini fans out there, as McDonald is a former Illinois receiver who is leaving his alma mater to join Kiffin in Oxford.
The Departure of Derrick Nix
Derrick Nix leaving Ole Miss to move to Auburn is undoubtedly a big blow for the Rebels sideline. Nix spent the past 16 years in Oxford, 12 as the running backs coach, and the last four as the wide receivers coach. Along the way, he’s been the coach, and/or mentor, of numerous big time playmakers that have called Oxford home. That list includes Dexter McCluster, Jerrion Ealy, Elijah Moore, and Jonathan Mingo, amongst others.
On top of being one of the most well-respected position coaches in the SEC, he’s also known as one of the best recruiters around. He played a key role in bringing much of the offensive talent that Ole Miss has seen in his time as a Rebel.
While he was never named a coordinator at Ole Miss, the respect he garnered managed to get him named as the assistant head coach, a role that he has held for the past two seasons.
Now, with his move to the Plains, he joins Hugh Freeze. Freeze served as his head coach at Ole Miss for five seasons before numerous scandals caused his time in Oxford to come to a screeching halt.
Who Is George McDonald?
George McDonald played at Illinois from 1995-1998. Upon graduating, he turned his attention towards coaching, starting as a grad assistant at Ball State. Since then, he’s held different positions, notably as the offensive coordinator at Western Michigan (2005-2006) and Syracuse (2013-2014). He also spent one season as the wide receivers coach for the Cleveland Browns in 2009. Most recently, he spent 2015-2020 at NC State, before heading back to his alma mater in 2021.
In his three seasons at Illinois, he’s jumpstarted a mediocre offense and turned it into one of the best in the Big Ten. While in Champagne, he oversaw the transition of Isaiah Williams from quarterback to receiver. Needless to say, the transition turned out to be a success. This year, Williams led the conference in receptions (82), and was second in yards (1,055). Those numbers proved to be good enough to see him named to the All-Big Ten first team.
But the success of Williams wasn’t the only impact McDonald had at Illinois. All three starting Illini wide receivers in 2023 had at least 500 yards receiving. They were also the only Power 5 school with a 1,000-yard receiver and two 500-yard receivers.
That success at the receiver position should fit hand in hand with what Ole Miss wants to do on offense. During the 2023 season, the Rebels had three different receivers end up with 700+ yards receiving. They also bring back all but one of their primary receivers from last year’s 11-win team. With the guys returning, and the addition of Deion Smith and Juice Wells in the portal, the Rebels receiving corps could easily be one of the best in the country. There’s no doubt McDonald is going to have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Will Ole Miss See a Smooth Transition From Nix to McDonald?
During Nix’s tenure in Oxford, Ole Miss was oftentimes known as a team with a high-octane offense. This was true during the Freeze years and remains true today during the Kiffin era. It’s not an understatement to say that McDonald is going to have huge shoes to fill.
However, he managed to resurrect an out-of-touch, mundane offense under Bret Bielema at Illinois. If he could find success in Champagne, putting him with a high-octane, Kiffin-led offense in Oxford should be no problem. That’s especially true considering the talent he’s inheriting on the outside.
Nix moving on to Auburn is an unfortunate loss for the Ole Miss coaching staff. But with the hire of McDonald, there’s no question the Rebels receiving room is still in good hands.