NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For Tony Ball, the allure of returning to his home state was too much to pass up.
But that wasn’t only reason the Chattanooga native returned to Tennessee to join Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason’s staff in late February.
“In anything that you do it’s about surrounding yourself with the right people,” said Ball, Vanderbilt’s new wide receiver’s coach. “I’ve done it long enough and really been blessed and fortunate enough to be around good people throughout my career. That’s always been important to me.
“The hours that we put into this and the energy that it takes, it just makes things more enjoyable. You have an opportunity to be a lot more successful when you’re working with people that, No. 1, are good people.”
Ball brings 35 years of coaching experience to West End. The former Chattanooga standout running back and return specialist spent part of his career has been spent at South Carolina, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Georgia, LSU and, from 2017-18, at Louisiana Tech with Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.
He’s learned over the years the reputation the Commodores have for upholding the expectations and standards of excellence.
“You know when you speak of Vanderbilt you’re getting an athlete, you’re getting a student that is going to school to get an education that is second to none,” Ball said. “And to be able to compete at a high level as student-athlete in this environment you have to demonstrate a discipline, an understanding of time management, have someone that is highly motivated to achieve academically – you know that you’re getting that type of student-athlete.
“I understood that before I ever met any of the players.”
Said Fitch: “I am excited to work with (Ball) again. He is a great teacher and role model for our players and has a passion for wide receiver play.
“His experience in the SEC will be a great help for our players and our coaching staff.”
Ball was able to work with Vanderbilt’s wide receivers briefly in March before the global pandemic of COVID-19. His WR room – albeit now a virtual one – is a collection of relatively young playmakers which includes Cam Johnson, Chris Pierce, James Bostic and Amir Abdur-Rahman, among others.
The veteran coach’s message to that group has been consistent from then until now and will continue to resonate when on-field activities return.
“The No. 1 thing is we’re going to approach each day with a blue-collar attitude,” Ball said. “I’m not going to take anything for granted in terms of what you might know or assume what you might know. We’re going to coach the foundation so that we all have a thorough understanding of the position.
“But it’s also just instilling in them a sense of pride about the position because it’s a special position that not everybody can play. It’s the type of position that each and every day we got to go to work to master the craft so that when that opportunity presents itself we have all the tools in the toolbox that we need in order to be successful.”