Chris Ball was named as the 30th head coach in the 104-year history of NAU Football on December 10, 2018.
Ball, who has over 30 years of college football coaching experience, arrives at Northern Arizona after serving for three seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis under head coach Mike Norvell.
Ball has a reputation of producing defenses that create turnovers, and he didn’t disappoint in his three seasons at the helm of the Memphis defense. Ball’s defense at Memphis ranked as one of the nation’s most-opportunistic units during his tenure with the Tigers, forcing the fifth-most turnovers over a three-year span among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) squads with 80 (29 in 2016/31 in 2017/20 in 2018). The 31 caused turnovers were tied for third nationally in 2017, and the 29 forced in 2016 were tied for fifth nationally.
Of the 80 forced turnovers, 40 were fumble recoveries (13 in 2016/15 in 2017/12 in 2018), which is among the FBS’ top-10 over the last three campaigns. In 2016, the 13 fumble recoveries were tied for sixth in FBS in 2016, the 15 in 2017 were tied for fourth nationally and 12 recoveries in 2018 ranked ninth among national FBS leaders.
Not only did the Tigers force turnovers, they made a habit of capitalizing on their opponents’ miscues. Of the 80 turnovers by opponents from 2016-18, Memphis scored 44 times, including seven defensive touchdowns (six interception returns/one fumble recovery). The defense also ranked in top-20 in FBS in turnover margin in both 2016 and 2017 and sat among the top 50 national leaders in 2018 (+4). In 2016, the Tigers were 18th nationally in turnover margin at +8. The 2017 season saw Memphis nearly double its turnover margin at +15, which was third in FBS. The +15 turnover margin marked the Tigers’ best in the 21st century.
Ball’s aggressive style of defense has helped players develop and flourish in his system. Linebacker Genard Avery, who set the Memphis school record with 22 TFL in 2017, was a two-time All-American Athletic Conference first team selection and became the Cleveland Browns’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. TJ Carter, a highly-recruited talent, further developed his skills in Ball’s defense. Carter, the 2017 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, picked off a Memphis freshman-record five passes. The five interceptions were tied for 15th in FBS overall and deadlocked for third nationally among FBS freshmen. Carter also earned Freshman All-America honors in 2017. Former defensive back Arthur Maulet thrived in 2016. Maulet led the team with 13 pass breakups and also had two interceptions. From his secondary position, Maulet logged 7.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. In May 2017, Maulet signed a free-agent contract with his hometown New Orleans Saints. He made six appearances for the Saints in 2017.
Prior to Memphis, Ball was at Arizona State from 2012-15 and served as the defensive passing game coordinator and safeties coach in 2012, before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator the following season. In his four seasons in Tempe, Ball helped guide seven Sun Devils defensive backs to All-Pac-12 honors. One of Ball’s pupils was All-Pac-12 first team honoree Damarious Randall, who was a first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
In the 2013 campaign, Ball mentored three players in the Sun Devils’ secondary that earned All-Pac-12 honors. Robert Nelson, an All-Pac-12 first team honoree, led the conference with six interceptions and was fourth in the league with 13 passes defended. Nelson was one of two Sun Devils to sign NFL free agent deals in 2014.
Before joining Arizona State, Ball worked his third stint at Washington State, serving as the defensive coordinator from 2008-11. In his four seasons at Washington State, Ball served as assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. In 2009, The Sporting News named him the Pac-10’s best position coach.
In each of his collegiate coaching stops, Ball has developed players that have gone on to the NFL. In addition to his time at Washington State, Ball also served on the staffs at Pittsburgh (2007) and Alabama (2003-06).
In his one season at Pittsburgh, Ball’s defense ranked fourth nationally in pass defense (167.3 ypg) and seventh in total defense (297.7 ypg). At Alabama, he coached the secondary. In 2004, Ball’s Alabama secondary led the nation in passing yards allowed (113.1 ypg) and also ranked second nationally in pass efficiency defense (97.8 rating). The next season (2005) was more of the same with Ball on the Crimson Tide defensive staff. The 2005 Alabama defense ranked second nationally in total defense and fifth in both passing yards allowed (160.8 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (97.8 rating). In his final year at Alabama in 2006, free safety Roman Harper earned All-SEC honors and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented to the country’s top defensive back.
From 2000-02, Ball made his second stop in Pullman, Wash., on the Washington State staff. While there, he coached the defensive backs, including Marcus Trufant, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL. The Cougars defense piled up 56 interceptions – including 26 during 2001 – over Ball’s three-season stint. The 26 interceptions for the Cougars in 2001 ranked second in the nation.
Before joining the Cougars staff, Ball spent one season as Idaho State’s defensive coordinator in 1999.
Ball began his coaching career at Northeast Missouri State (1986-87) and Akron (1987-88), before joining Mike Price’s staff – his first stop at Washington State – in 1989. He also coached at Coffeyville Community College (1990-94), Western Oregon State College (1995-96) and Missouri Western State (1997-98).
A St. Louis, Mo., native, Ball played his prep ball at Webster Grove High School and put together a standout collegiate career at Missouri Western State College in Saint Joseph, Mo. Ball starred in the Griffons’ secondary from 1982-85. His 12 career interceptions are the sixth-most in Griffons’ history and his five picks in 1984 led the team that season. In 1985, Ball earned All-America honors.
The 1986 Missouri Western State College graduate and his wife, Tandi, have three children: a son, Brennan, and daughters, Abby and Ella Grace.
Chris Ball Career at a Glance
|2019-Present||Head Coach||Northern Arizona|
|2012-15||Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs||Arizona State|
|2008-11||Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Backs||Washington State|
|2007||Assistant Coach/Defensive Backs||Pittsburgh|
|2003-06||Assistant Coach/Defensive Backs||Alabama|
|2000-02||Assistant Coach/Defensive Backs||Washington State|
|1999||Defensive Coordinator||Idaho State|
|1997-98||Defensive Coordinator||Missouri Western State|
|1995-96||Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs||Western Oregon State|
|1991-94||Assistant Coach/Defensive Backs||Coffeyville CC (Kansas)|
|1989-90||Assistant Coach||Washington State|
|1986-87||Assistant Coach/Defensive Backs||Northeast Missouri State|
|1986||Graduate Assistant||Missouri Western State|
1982-85 – All-American Defensive Back – Missouri Western State
1986 – Missouri Western State
Wife – Tandi
Children – Brennan, Abby, Ella Grace