PULLMAN — In the wake of his new team’s rout of his old one, Arizona State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball didn’t mince words late Thursday when asked what it was like to be standing on the visitors’ sideline in Martin Stadium. “It was weird, it was really hard,” said the man who spent seven seasons at Washington State over two tours of duty. And little wonder why.
He helped recruit many of the current Cougar players, including one who he said he knew was destined for greatness.
“I’ve got a lot of great memories here and it was really hard to come back here and be on the other sideline to tell you the truth,” said Ball, who was co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at WSU under Paul Wulff from 2008-2011 and secondary coach under Mike Price from 2000-2002.
“But it is what it is and they are doing a good job of building the program. They’ve definitely gotten a lot better, but it was a rough, rough day for me.”
For a coach who just won a lopsided victory that put his 6-2 club one step closer to the Pac-12 South title, he couldn’t help but recollect on some of his fondest memories coaching the Cougs.
He talked about the consecutive 10-win seasons when he was mentoring some of the greatest defensive backs in school history. He also talked about the reclamation project he helped Wulff undertake.
“Even when I came back after (coaching at) Pittsburgh, with Coach Wulff, we had some great kids and some of the kids are still on the team and playing really well for them right now and it’s great to see them getting better and maturing as young men," he said. "I grabbed a bunch of them after the game and told them I missed them.
“Those kids went through a lot. It was tough and they got this program pointed in the right direction and Coach Leach is doing a really good job in getting some facilities done,” he added. “The future is bright here, but I have a lot of great memories … a lot of great friends here, a lot of good people. I wish I could stay the night and see all of them. It’s a special place to me.”
Ball had a huge influence on the recruiting trail while on Wulff’s staff. He was key in bringing Deone Bucannon, Nolan Washington, Damante Horton, Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole, among others, to WSU.
“All those kids played for us as freshmen,” Ball said. “To see them playing as well as they are...I’m proud of them.”
The Cougar defense surrendered 557 yards and 33 first downs in the 55-21 loss to the Sun Devils in Thursday's nationally televised game, but his point is well taken.
When recruiting Bucannon, Ball said he saw greatness on the horizon for the recently named Thorpe Award semifinalist.
“I had no doubt,” Ball said. “When I saw him play in high school he was really, really athletic and fast and very physical.”
And Ball knows his defensive backs. In his first stint at WSU he coached five guys who went on to the NFL: Lamont Thompson, Marcus Trufant, Erik Coleman, Jason David and Hamza Abdullah. Ball says Bucannon’s play puts him in that same company.
“I think he is comparable,” Ball said. “The thing that Erik Coleman and Marcus had was work ethic that was second to none -- same thing with Jason David. All those guys worked hard. They worked extremely hard. Deone learned that. When he came here I hooked him up with those guys and those guys told him what he needed to do to make himself better. I mean look at him, he’s huge (6-1, 215). He looks great. Obviously he has worked really hard.”
As for the Cougars as a team, they too have improved, Ball says.
“They’ve gotten better,” he said, adding, “It’s nice that they are finally getting some facilities done so they can get some recruits here. We went to two Rose Bowls in ten years and the facilities never really changed. So we fell behind. It’s hard enough to recruit to Pullman. It’s even harder to recruit to Pullman when you don’t have facilities.
“So, now they are going to get some facilities and Coach Leach knows what he is doing. He’s got a good staff and those guys are going to put together some good recruiting classes. It just takes time. People understand it takes time and you’ve got to have what everybody else has. Bill Moos has done a great job of building that stuff up and getting this thing rolling.”
Asked to handicap this year’s Apple Cup, given his unique perch of having routed both the Cougars and Huskies by similar scores within the last three weeks, Ball was straight forward.
“I think they will matchup great. It will be a great game,” he said. “Go Cougs on that one.”
Ball said his time working for Mike Price was critical in his development as a coach. Not only did Price show him how to teach the game of football, but he taught him how to mentor players.
“He (Price) was a player’s coach,” Ball said. “He taught me a lot about building relationships with players and making it a life-long relationship and I still keep in contact with some of those defensive backs from that era. He taught me to still be firm, but to be there for players. Not just for four years, but for the rest of their lives.”
CHRIS BALL IS CRIMSON, CIRCA 2010.