Lew Wright interviewing Coach Chris Ball post game after WSU loss to Stanford on September 5, 2009 PHOTO: Lewis Wright, Jr., All Rights Reserved
When the No. 25 Arizona State Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) take the field in Martin Stadium tonight against Washington State (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12), there will be a very familiar face wearing different colors this Halloween evening.
Coach Chris Ball is the Co-Defensive Coordinator for ASU. He joined Coach Todd Graham’s staff as part of the coaching housecleaning that took place in Tempe a couple of years back.
It wasn’t that long ago Coach Ball was part of a staff trying to rebuild Cougar football under the direction of Coach Paul Wulff. While progress was made during the four years of Coach Wulff’s regime, it wasn’t enough to satisfy either WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos or the overwhelming majority of Cougar Nation.
Oh how things can change, making it difficult for anyone to ever go home.
At one time Coach Ball and his family called Pullman home. Check that. There have been two times when the Ball family lived on the Palouse.
If you have a good memory, which isn’t always an asset for those following Cougar football the past decade, Coach Ball was secondary coach for the Cougs from 2000-02. During that stint, WSU was known for their outstanding secondary which included the likes of Marcus Trufant. Cougar D-Backs accumulated 26 interceptions in 2001, second best in the nation.
The four seasons Ball spent as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach from 2008-11 were not as memorable.
Some of the young men who were mentored by Coach Ball will be going up against him tonight. Guys like Deone Bucannon, Damante Horton, Nolan Washington, and Anthony Carpenter will likely be looking to greet their former coach after 60-minutes of football. Prior to the game, it will be all about taking care of business, the business of college football.
As one of the best as his craft, coaching up defensive units, Ball will have good memories of Pullman with one exception. Cougar football was never relevant during his second tenure which likely wiped out the recollections of coaching with one of the all-time greats, Mike Price.
In the simplest of terms, Ball’s second go-around at WSU was a project just beginning to list legitimate Pac-12 talent when a coaching change was made following the 2011 season. Ball worked with some great kids who all improved because of his leadership. But facts are facts. The skill sets of the student-athletes he was working, in general, were not Pac-12 caliber athletes.
Will tonight be different for Coach Ball?
Will his defense be able to contain the Air Raid attack of Washington State?
Oregon discovered Coach Mike Leach has the Cougs moving the football with steady, almost mind-numbing consistency utilizing short and mid-range passing.
If this game follows form, it will be a very long night for the ASU defense. Coach Ball will be looking to throw wild defensive schemes at the Cougs with the hope of slowing down their aerial assault long enough to outscore WSU.
Chris Ball’s defense is currently ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12, yielding a paltry 349.3 yards per game. Heck, it’s likely Connor Halliday will rack up close to that in passing yardage by halftime.
Last time ASU played in Pullman, Halliday lit them up for nearly 500-yards of passing, 4-TD tosses and no interceptions in route to lead the Cougars over a heavily favored Sun Devil team.
Back in 2011 both Halliday and Ball were on the same sidelines wearing the same school colors. That was then and this is now.
There will be no welcome mat out for Chris Ball tonight. He wasn’t invited as a friend this time around.
And if things go according to the game plan engineered by Coach Leach, Coach Ball will leave town shaking his head in disbelief.
The rebuilding of Cougar football is marching forward one step at a time.
Defeating Arizona State in front of Cougar fans and an ESPN national television audience may well be the continuation of Leach developing a very competitive college football program.