Three weeks after Jerome Souers stepped down as Northern Arizona's head football coach, the university named a replacement.
Chris Ball, who has spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Memphis, was named the new football coach of the Lumberjacks Monday morning.
Ball comes to Flagstaff with an extensive background as an assistant coach, holding the position during stints with seven different Division I schools. He was an assistant at Washington State, Northern Arizona Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Mike Marlow's former school. The new Lumberjacks head coach has never held a FCS or FBS head coaching position, though he spent one season in the Big Sky Conference as Idaho State's defensive coordinator in 1999.
Ball also has close recruiting ties to Arizona following his time spent as the co-defensive coordinator at Arizona State before he followed then Sun Devils offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to Memphis.
Ball spent four seasons in Tempe, three as the co-defensive coordinator and one as at the safeties coach. He worked under then Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham, who called plays on defense at Arizona State.
Despite the Valley ties that played a role into why Ball was ultimately hired by Northern Arizona, Memphis only had two players from Arizona on its roster this season. Moreover, Memphis’s defense was statistically average under Ball.
Through the Tigers’ 13 games this year, the defense ranks in the 50 to 100 range in the FBS in seven major categories including: red zone defense, third-down defense, interceptions, yards allowed per game, rushing defense, points allowed per game and total defense. The Tigers stronger ranks were at 14th in tackles for loss per game and 29th in sacks per game.
The Sun Devils defense during Ball's final season had a ball-hawking secondary that recorded 15 interceptions -- good for second-best in the Pac-12 in 2015. Despite the high interceptions count, the defense was the worst in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed at 337.5 per game. But the defense was solid against the run, allowing a third-best 126.2 yards per game.
Ball’s per-year salary at Memphis was $390,000, more than double Souers annual pay of $185,000 per season, and more than Marlow’s $200,000 per-year salary.
It isn’t currently clear what will happen to the Souers' assistants and whether they will be retained. Ball does have a familiar coaching connection to a father-son tandem on the Northern Arizona staff, however.
In 2001 and '02, during Ball’s second of three stints at Washington State, Lumberjacks wide receivers coach Robin Pflugrad was on the Cougars offensive staff while Ball was on the defensive side. More than 10 years later, while Ball was at Arizona State, Lumberjacks offensive coordinator Aaron Pflugrad was a graduate assistant on the Sun Devils offensive staff while Ball coached defense.
Ball departed a Memphis staff on which former Northern Arizona defensive backs coach TJ Rushing was also a defensive assistant, coaching the Tigers' defensive backs as well as serving as the pass game coordinator. Rushing spent just the 2014 season in Flagstaff following two years with Ball at Arizona State, as a graduate assistant and defensive quality control coach.
A press conference to introduce Ball is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at the 1899 Bar and Grill.
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