When Derek Mason kicked off Spring Practice on February 25th, there was still one position on the staff that had not been filled. Former WR coach Aaron Moorehead had flown north to take the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vanderbilt did not announce the replacement until after my Spring Football Primer was already posted and after the first practice had already occurred. Tony Ball brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to a talented but unproven receiving corps.
The reason this deep dive into Ball’s previous stops has been delayed is the very reason no fans will be in attendance at Vanderbilt Stadium this evening for what was supposed to be the Black and Gold Spring Game. Just as spring practice was getting underway, the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus was brewing. Sports and other public events would soon be closed before reaching the current state of affairs with most states under varying degrees of “shelter-in-place” orders. Late is better than never, so who has Derek Mason recruited to coach WRs under new OC Todd Fitch?
Tony Ball’s coaching career started as a graduate assistant in 1985 at Austin Peay. In 1988, he moved to South Carolina as a volunteer RB coach, which was the position he played during his college playing career at Chattanooga. Ball would then alternate from coaching WRs at Chattanooga to RBs at East Tennessee State to WRs at Chattanooga again in consecutive seasons. Three seasons tutoring RBs at Holy Cross would be followed three more seasons at Louisville back to coaching WRs.
Ball would then head to Virginia Tech for 8 seasons under the legendary Frank Beamer which included the Hokies moving from the Big East to the ACC in the final 2 seasons. Then we get to see what makes Ball alluring to any coach, but especially Vanderbilt. Ball went from VT to the Georgia Bulldogs. The first 3 seasons of his tenure there were back with the RBs before shifting to coaching WRs again for the final 6 seasons in Athens. During that time, 5 Bulldog WRs were drafted including All-Pro AJ Green. Tony Ball would then slide from Athens to Baton Rouge for a single season at LSU.
His next stop provides the connection that is probably most important to being hired at Vanderbilt, even with the impressive and lengthy resume coaching WRs and RBs. Ball would spend the 2017 and 2018 seasons at Louisiana Tech coaching RBs under OC Todd Fitch, who was also hired this offseason to steer the Commodores offense as OC on the West End. A one-season holdover at UT San Antonio as Passing Game Coordinator and WR coach in 2019 immediately preceded Ball being hired by Derek Mason.
The good news is that Ball has coached under very successful head coaches like Frank Beamer and Mark Richt for extensive periods. It seems unlikely that either of those coaches would keep a coach who does not properly prepare his position group for 8 or 9 seasons, respectively. The connection to Fitch should be useful since he knows what Fitch expects, even if he is coaching WRs at Vanderbilt instead of RBs like he did at LA Tech. Vanderbilt happens to have one of the most respected RB coaches in the country in Tim Horton, and Ball seems to prefer coaching WRs since his history has much longer stretches over that position group.
If you want to find a concern, it might be that he had spent 21 seasons as a position coach before being given any extra responsibility and even then was named as “Passing Game Coordinator” which can be such a nebulous title that it can be hard to pin down what that person’s job is (though, yes, it seems obvious) and may vary drastically from team to team, depending on how the OC and other position coaches operate.
Ball at least brings high-level and winning experience to a staff that is especially short on time at premier programs like Georgia. While I may have dropped the ball on this analysis of the newest coach, the receivers should be expected to be sure-handed thanks to the work of Ball and his predecessor who did well enough to earn a promotion to the NFL.