If Chris Nixon didn’t realize how much he meant to the Elk Grove football community, he found out Tuesday night.
Supporters young and old decked in blue and gold, some in Elk Grove High School football jerseys – and many displaying signs of encouragement – clogged the Robert L. Trigg Education Center at the Elk Grove Unified School District office, supporting Nixon as he asked to be reinstated as the Thundering Herd’s coach.
Thirteen people – including retired Chicago Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs – stood before the EGUSD board of trustees to speak of Nixon’s character and impact on the community and why he should remain in the position Nixon said he felt forced to resign from last week.
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The board also received emails from area coaches – active and retired – offering support.
On Feb. 24, the EGUSD gave Nixon the option to resign or be terminated for his role in the construction of a team building next to the bleachers of the school’s stadium. The fallout also included the termination of a district employee involved with facilities, athletic director Seth Boyle being stripped of his title effective at the end of the academic year, and school principal Cathy Guy being verbally reprimanded. Nixon said he did not conspire to deceive the district in the building’s construction.
Nixon, who has six consecutive 10-win seasons in his nine-year tenure, rescinded his resignation Monday. He wants his job back. On Tuesday, Nixon, a longtime teacher at Feickert Elementary School in the district, apologized to the board for the controversy caused by the building.
The district hired an outside agency to conduct a six-month investigation into the building, which was financed by Elk Grove football booster funds, and concluded the building lacked proper permits and full district approval. Construction ceased in August. The structure is unfinished, surrounded by weeds and fencing.
“I am sorry this building has become the focus of so much attention and trouble,” Nixon told the board after he received a rousing ovation from backers. “Mistakes were made and I accept responsibility. But I hope you will understand.”
Board president Carmine Forcina said, “There is work to be done ... we don’t have a resolution at this point.”
On Wednesday, Nixon spoke about the support he received at the meeting.
“I was just about at a loss for words.” he said. “I was so moved to see players, parents, alumni, teachers, community members and fellow district football coaches displaying such amazing support. It was an emotional night for my family (wife Tina and sons Sean and Scott).
“Lance Briggs flying in from Chicago to speak was just amazing. To see (former Elk Grove head coaches) Ed Lombardi and Dave Hoskins there was touching. I loved hearing all of the players speak ... it made me very proud. It’s a community that rallies around its people and that’s what I love about it. That’s what keeps me here.”
Briggs was a star player on Elk Grove’s 1997 and ’98 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship teams co-coached by Lombardi and Hoskins with Nixon as the offensive coordinator.
Briggs told the board: “This community raised me. Chris was a part of that. I trust him to continue to lead these players just like he led me to be the man I am today. I take Elk Grove with me every day. We’ve got to keep this going.”
Hoskins, a district employee since 1977, said he was impressed by the support and the civility.
“I thought it might be a war, but they didn’t allow it to be a war – they let people talk,” Hoskins said. “Sometimes in these situations, people jump on the table and start screaming. I thought I might watch a circus. Nixon was a very good speaker; a lot of people were.
“It’s unfortunate that something so trivial has to come to this magnitude, people losing their jobs. However, maybe it’s a lesson that you’ve got to take care of paperwork business and you can’t mess with permits because of liability. I understand that part of it. What I don’t understand is the trickle-down side of it.”
More meetings at the district office are in the works but no dates have been set.