New Arizona State secondary coach Chris Ball was previously at Washington State and has also coached at Pitt and Alabama, where he led one of the nation's best passing defenses from 2003-2006, among other stops. We recently interviewed him about working with the Sun Devil defensive backs.
ASUDevils.com: How did this opportunity come about with Coach (Todd) Graham and ASU?
Chris Ball: He had coach (Paul) Randolph call me, get in touch with me -- I think we had two or three weeks to go in the season -- and said if you guys got let go at Washington State, then you have a job here, at Pittsburgh, and I said great, thank you, this is awesome. I had previously coached there before I had went to Washington State. After the season I went back to Pittsburgh, which is a good football job too. You get great players there. My wife and I were excited about it, we weren't excited about living in Pittsburgh, but we were excited about the job, go up and make the best out of it. We have lived there before so we kind of knew the area better and knew where we wanted to live so I was excited to come back, Coach Graham wanted me to come back and coach the bowl game, so I was going to come back and I was just waiting to hear from him. And one day my phone was ringing, and the person asked me, "Hey are you going to Arizona State," and I said "I don't think so why?" And he goes "Graham just took the Arizona State job". Right after that I got a text from him saying, "Are you in at Arizona State?" It took me about half a second to text back "Oh yeah I am. I am in. I am in for that one, yeah." I got on a plane and came right down. He came down on the 14th I think I came down on the 15th. There were just a few of us. We just came in and got to work.
ASUDevils.com: Your relationship with Coach Graham dates back to when?
Ball: It dates back to when he was a defensive coordinator at Tulsa. We had talked a lot of ball. He used to come down to Alabama and we would sit around and talk ball. And then he ended up hiring at Tulsa one of my graduate assistants. So we have just kept in touch and I've seen him around. Coach Randolph and I are good friends so when I'd see him I'd say "Tell Coach I say hi." He was always checking on me seeing if I wanted to go to Tulsa or come back to Pittsburgh. It's just the opportunity and the timing wasn't right. But now it worked out.
ASUDevils.com:What was so appealing to you about ASU?
Ball: Coaching on and off in this league for the past nine years, this is the job you always say, 'That is the one you want.' I think if you look at the whole package from top to bottom from facilities -- and our facilities are just getting better -- to cost of living, you just put it all in one big package, everything, I think it is the best job. Everything has good things, some people have one thing better then the other, but when you talk the whole package from living to everything, I think it is the best job. I've always wondered why they couldn't win big on a consistent basis. But I always knew when I recruited against them it was going to be a tough get. I knew they had a lot to offer facility-wise, academically, I never knew how good they were academically. I thought, now getting here, they could win big here, really big.
ASUDevils.com: What do you see here that was maybe a little different than what you expected?
Ball: Facilities. The big thing was academically you have a really good academic sell. Then, you talk to Jean Boyd. And the facilities and those things and then location, Tempe, when you walk around there's palm trees everywhere, the weather is nice, the sun is always out. But I think those three things, academically, facility wise, and weather make it a great situation.
ASUDevils.com: Can you talk about the staff and how you guys are going to make your mark here?
Ball: I think it starts at the top. I think at this place, you've got the right guy, you have a disciplinarian. A guy that comes in here and really understands you have to have high character [players], you've got to have smart people, hard working people, and you have to have talented people. And talented people gets him in the door and gets him to want them to sign up here and get them here. But I think with that, you have to have high character people here, especially in this situation because there are some distractions. There is a lot going on, it is nice all the time, there is a lot going on. You got to have guys that put social (life) down at the bottom, and put (as priorities) faith, family, academics, football and then social. You have to find the people that are high character enough to put that down there, that are disciplined enough. Him being at the top is going to make sure, he hired high charter people, he has a clear vision, that is just going to trickle down to the rest of us. I've known Bob Connelly and worked with him at two different schools, I've worked with Paul Randolph at the University of Alabama, I coached Joe Lorig. I know these guys really well and I am comfortable around them. I have gotten to know the other guys and they are great people, and one thing that is impressive is how hard they recruit. They understand the importance of recruiting. A lot of people talk about but these guys do it. If you are talking a coach and they give you a name and I say "what do you think about him?" They say "I really like him, I think he's a great player," I am comfortable with that because they have done their research. But it is a hard recruiting staff a hard working staff and everybody is on the same page.
ASUDevils.com: Lets talk philosophically about how you are as a secondary coach, your coverage schemes, and what you guys are trying to do?
Ball: We want to impact the quarterback. We are going to do that with different looks, tweaking coverages, we definitely want to do that with impacting the quarterback. We want to break the interception record here. That is something that I want to do.
ASUDevils.com: Will there be a base shell that you guys run?
Ball: We will based out of quarters. We will start from there. We will start with a four shell and go from there.
ASUDevils.com: What do you look for in each position and player?
Ball: I look for, is the kid physical? When I turn on the tape, is he going to hit somebody? If there is any sign that he is going to shy away, not getting downhill, not a good tackler, that is a big question mark for me. Does he has good footwork and speed? He obviously has to be able to run in this league, and his footwork has to be good. Does he have good ball skills? Can he intercept the ball when he is turning and running? Can he get off the ground and catch the ball? That is getting harder and harder to find these days. When I was growing up we are outside playing with balls all the time, they weren't playing video games. The forth one I added, it is kind of a bonus, but since we are in the PAC-12 with big receivers, size. Not just height but body mass. It is such a great league. The PAC-12 verses the SEC in the last 13 years, look who has a winning record. What's that mean? Maybe it doesn't say a lot but it's a big stat. The corners have to be stout, and if not they will find that weakness and make him tackle the big back. I think, I had two short corners at Alabama when we lead the nation in pass defense but they were strong. To be undersized, if you are going to be undersized you have to play strong and play big and have a high motor if you are going to be undersized. I am not saying I won't take the 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9 corner but they have to be special.
ASUDevils.com: Looking at film and what you have to work with in those areas, what are your feelings?
Ball: I feel good about it, the corner position, there is some great competition in this position, I think there are come corner guys that could play safety. It is all going to weed itself out. I am really pleased with the group of kids that I have coming back. They are really good kids, they work hard, are really physical, I know they have been coached well I know coach Bray. He's a really good football coach and I've learned a lot from him in the past, I've followed him before and stepped into a situation where the kids are well coached. I think the best thing we have going right now is competition. I think with a new coach it is wide open, so they are all going to elevate their play to get a lot of playing time.
ASUDevils.com: They ran some quarters and Cover 8 under Bray. How different is going to be for these guys from an adjustment standpoint?
Ball: It won't be a whole lot of adjusting, the main thing will be terminology. We will run a lot more quarter halves, what we call Cover 6. It is going to be pretty similar. It is not going to be far off, or totally different scheme. It is very similar so it will be okay.
ASUDevils.com:I don't know if it's yet determined but you will be multiple in the front?
Ball: Yeah we will be multiple. Nowadays, I feel like you have to be multiple, with all the different offenses. Each week it's different, and I think you have to be multiple, you have to have it built into the defensive package to be multiple, you have to the concepts that carry over. You can't just have a completely different defense, you got to have your 4-3, your odd front, your 30 front what I call, you have to have those coverage concepts of your 4-3 and bring it to your 30.
ASUDevils.com: Some coaches have said that a 30 front is harder to face with spread offenses. Do you think that?
Ball: It just depends on what you are trying to do with your spread. It puts a faster player out there, but there is more gaps, there is more air in it. There is a lot to be said about having a 3-technique, a 5 and a shade, and a 9 or a 7 technique because there is less air in there. It all depends, if there was one defensive scheme that stopped everything we would all be running it and have that figured out. I think you have to be careful because there is a fine line of not having enough or having too much. But at the same time at the end of the day the fundamentals win you football games, you know, tackling, getting off blocks, catching the football, creating turnover, all of those things at the end of the day are what you really need to be coaching hard.
ASUDevils.com: Alden Darby -- he moved around a lot, seemed well suited as a nickel back or safety, corner seemed to be a little more difficult for him, where do you see him at?
Ball: Right now I need him to play safety and compete there. Either one, I have to look at him. We are going to have a bench safety (boundary) and a field safety. So he will be more of a halves player or quarter player, where a field safety will be more of a box guy.
Ball: Good players. Good players. Really like them. We got a good crew of guys I've just got to see, you know. We've also got Ezekiel (Bishop). I like them, I really do like them. I just have to see. But as people I like them, I really do. I like being in the room with them, they are attentive, they care, they are -- knock on wood -- doing what we ask.
ASUDevils.com: What has the message been like as far as the early dialogue and building the relationships?
Ball: I think it is going good, I am really easy to talk to. I tell them that, I am here to help you. I think when you take a new job there needs to be trust, and I've got to trust them too, trust is a two way street, and they have to trust me. And faith. You've got to believe without seeing when you come in this thing. We are just trying to establish relationships and that is what this whole things is about I have to get those guys to play as hard for me as they have played for anyone. But they have to get me too, they have to want to coach, I want to coach them hard. I want to walk in the room and them be like sponges, that is what motivates me. So building relationships -- these last few weeks we've been recruiting so that part slips a little bit. But coach Graham's made sure we stay on top of the guys. And build a relationship, player-coach relationship. They understand that they are players and we are coaches but we are all trying to accomplish the same things. We are trying to win the Rose Bowl. I want to win it as bad as they do, I just have to organize it, and they have got to understand that.
ASUDevils.com: What are the things that you have to achieve in the spring?
Ball: We have to run our base defense. We have to put our base defense in and our kids have got to be comfortable with it, and feel really good about our base defense and a good understanding of it, and how to fix it if it breaks and all the adjustments and understandings of it. If we can do that I'll be really happy.