ATHENS, Ga. - After spending eight years at Virginia Tech, Tony Ball was ready for a new start when he moved to Georgia as the Bulldogs' new running backs coach this year.
Imagine Ball's surprise when he first heard that Virginia Tech would be Georgia's opponent in the Dec. 30 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"Obviously, I was surprised," Ball said. "Out of all the schools you could have played in this bowl matchup, we end up getting Virginia Tech. I was pleasantly surprised."
Ball's experience at Virginia Tech and knowledge of Tech's players makes him a valuable resource for coach Mark Richt.
"Being there for eight years, I know all the personnel," Ball said. "That helps me and helps us. You try to get a feel for them athletically and what a team is doing. It will speed up the breakdown process."
Richt says Ball was "within hours" of being offered a job last year, when Richt thought he needed to replace defensive ends coach Jon Fabris after Fabris announced he had accepted a job at Oklahoma.
"We interviewed (Ball) and really I was within hours of hiring him, just moments really," Richt said. "Then ... Jon Fabris called me and we spoke and he wanted to come back."
In February, Ball received another call from Richt when Kirby Smart left the Georgia staff for a job with the Miami Dolphins.
"There was no interview, no question in my mind," Richt said. "The only question was would Tony still be interested in coming."
"Looking back, there's no doubt in my mind that this has worked out well for my family and now," Ball said. "I work for an outstanding coach in coach Richt and he was the reason I came here. Everything has gone well. The family has adjusted and the experience has been good."
Ball, 47, had 11 years experience as a receivers coach, including three years at Louisville, before taking over the Georgia running backs.
Ball says he was a bigger fan of the Southern Cal tailback tradition when he was growing up in Chattanooga. He says he began to hear more about Georgia's running backs in college at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
"As far back as I can remember, I was a USC Trojan tailback fan," he said. "That was the team I followed. When I got in college, a lot of those guys were from the state of Georgia and all I heard about was Herschel Walker and Lindsay Scott and all those guys."
Ball's plans for the 2006 Georgia tailbacks changed when starter Thomas Brown was lost for the season with a knee injury he suffered on Oct 11.
Kregg Lumpkin emerged as the leader with 759 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Danny Ware, who ran well in Georgia's win over Georgia Tech, is expected to be Lumpkin's top backup against Virginia Tech.