Sam Ballard, Mesa men’s basketball coach since 2008, has retired effective immediately.
In his 12 years as coach (there was no basketball season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Ballard produced a 223-136 won-lost record despite facing several handicaps facing an NJCAA Division I schedule but following Division II rules.
Said Mulhern of Ballard, “We were fortunate to have Coach Ballard as our head coach for so many years. His team’s successes are a reflection of how hard he works as a coach and how much he cares for the game of basketball and his student-athletes. We all wish him good luck in his retirement and in all his future endeavors.”
During his tenure he inaugurated the Fiesta Bowl Junior College Shootout which annually bring some of the top junior college teams from throughout the country to Mesa between Christmas and New Years. In its ten-year history the event has attracted schools from 18 states nationwide, plus Canada. It is generally considered to be the premier regular-season tournament in the nation.
Known particularly as a defensive-minded coach, he ran a “Day on Defense” Clinic every summer which was attended by high school and college coaches throughout the region.
He had perhaps his best run from 2012-15 when his three teams for those years produced a combined 71-21 record and won the Region I championship in 2013-14 with a 26-5 record. He was named ACCAC and regional Coach of the Year. The T-Birds capped that season by winning the regional title game over Arizona Western, 108-63.
Ballard had wide-ranging experience prior to arriving at MCC.
A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he began his coaching career after returning from a five-and-a-half year playing career in France. That is also where he met his future wife, Brigitte.
His first job was as head coach at Judson School, in Paradise Valley, AZ, where his 1980 team won the Arizona Independent Athletic Association state championship and he was named Coach of the Year.
After a year at East H.S. where he assisted Hall of Fame coach Royce Yuree and guided the team to a 23-3 record, Metro League championship and reached the state quarter-finals, he entered the college ranks at Yavapai CC as assistant men’s and women’s coach. It was there that his defensive acumen truly surfaced, as the women’s team won the Region I title, leading the nation in team defense. He became head women’s coach in 1983, leading the team to a two-year record of 42-15 with two top-five national defensive finishes.
He then joined at Paradise Valley H.S. and Phoenix College as an assistant men’s coach.
In 1989 he re-joined Yuree as assistant coach at Paradise Valley H.S., taking over as head coach the following year. In seven seasons with the Spartans he compiled a 107-69 mark and was named Metro Coach of the Year.
Moving to Mountain Pointe H.S. in 1997 he began a stretch that would result in his being inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. In ten seasons he posted a 171-90 record and piled up several honors. He was regional Coach of the Year four times, was named Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune Coach of the Year in 1998 and Arizona Varsity.com state Coach of the year.
After a year at Grand Canyon University as an assistant coach he accepted his current post at Mesa.
Current assistant coaches Jimmy Herrera and Gariden Wolff will temporarily guide the team while a search for a new head coach is conducted.