News & Politics

The Double Life of Doc Nix, College Basketball’s Zaniest Bandleader

Last year, George Mason University’s Green Machine was named America’s number-one pep band. And much of the credit goes to its director, an outlandish character named Doc Nix. What hoops fans who buy Nix bobbleheads may not know is that, by day, the zany bandleader is a tenured professor whose credentials (a master’s from Yale, a doctorate from Michigan) are anything but zany. A look at how Dr. Michael Nickens transforms himself into the beloved Doc Nix.

Photographs by Susana Raab

7:16 pm

“Is Bruce Wayne the real man or is Batman the real man? At some point, it’s a silly question. You show up to do a job, and you put on your work clothes to do it. It’s combining the cheerleader, the mascot, and the drum major into one thing. That’s what Doc Nix is.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

9:45 am

In his home studio: “Growing up, we’d go to my Aunt Noni’s in Southeast on weekends. She had a piano, and I could listen to what she was playing and then figure it out.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

10:12 am

“If I go far enough south, every suit I wear is one somebody has worn to church. They each have different energy. They unlock the part of me I want to be at a game.”


10:59 am

“You do a lot, no matter your title. That’s absolutely Mason. I can teach brass, musicianship—I’ve had history classes, keyboard students, improv classes.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

11:55 am

“At 29 Diner, it’s usually eggs over easy, this sausage I just can’t stay away from, wheat toast, and grits. My grandmother used to make grits; it’s stuck with me my whole life.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

1:45 pm

“[Family Barber Shop] is a pampering moment. I could mess with my phone, but I don’t. They’ll have cooking shows on, so I’ll be looking at some exotic food from some country I’ve never heard of.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

4:10 pm

“After the team went to the Final Four [in ’06], the powers that be wanted a professional-led band. I remember thinking, ‘I want to make this one of the most important positions on campus.’ ”

Photographs by Susana Raab

4:48 pm

With a cutout of the Doc Nix doll, which GMU made after rolling out bobbleheads. “You can’t cuddle with a bobblehead. People want to cuddle with Doc Nix.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

5:15 pm

“I’ve hurt my back and feet. I make sure I put double Dr. Scholl’s gels in my shoes. Sometimes I’ll just straight-up wear sneakers because I can’t wear the dress shoes.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

7:02 pm

“I call that the green-sherbet suit. It’s bold. It’s fun but not overly silly. And I just feel smooth in it. Smooth and cool like sherbet.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

7:30 pm

“I was a drum major in high school. I could control the entire crowd, get ’em yelling, get ’em cheering. Fast-forward to this: I wanted the same thing to happen here.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

7:44 pm

“There’s an aspect to it where I don’t care about the audience at all. I’m just playing music ’cause I enjoy what I’m playing. And so I’m in my own universe.”

Photographs by Susana Raab

9:04 pm

“Weekend games in particular, the community goes to Brion’s Grille. It’s a chance to get a little face time with folks or enjoy the glow of a win. But win or lose, we’re gonna be there.”

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Washingtonian.