|Chuck Cecil is in his first season as defensive coordinator for the Titans.|
That passion for football will be apparent now that he's the new defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, right? Not according to Cecil.
"It is not about me. This is about the players. I haven't made one tackle since I've been here, not one time, and I won't make any tackles this year. I don't think inbounds anyway,'' Cecil said.
An aggressive, physical approach is what turned Cecil from a walk-on at the University of Arizona to an All-American and led to his recent election to the College Football Hall of Fame. He played seven years at safety in the NFL with Green Bay, Phoenix and the Houston Oilers.
Cecil's hard-hitting style also led to fines, including a $30,000 tab in 1993 that was the highest not accompanied by a suspension. That very passion is why the son of a high school football coach needed time away from the game before deciding to test himself as a coach.
"I didn't know if I could coach and not playing bother me too much,'' Cecil said. "Being around it and not being able to actually play on the field, that was really going to be a problem for me. I couldn't enjoy coaching.''
His career ended after the 1995 season, and he kept himself busy working as a TV analyst for his alma mater.
By 2001, Cecil was ready to return to football. Jeff Fisher hired him as a defensive assistant for quality control. That job meant lots of hours cutting up game tape for little pay. He was promoted to coaching safeties and nickel backs in 2004 and took over the entire secondary by 2007.
The unit intercepted 14 passes that season, and cornerback Nick Harper said the players could see his fire as a coach when Cecil head-butted everyone in the secondary on game days. Cecil's secondary had three Pro Bowlers in 2008 and 19 interceptions, second only to Green Bay in the NFL.
"Sometimes you wonder whether or not he wants to put the pads on and do the job for you,'' Pro Bowl safety Michael Griffin said.
When Detroit hired Jim Schwartz as head coach, Fisher looked inside his own staff for a replacement. He promoted Cecil over linebackers coach Dave McGinnis for continuity on a defense that returns 10 starters. The defense ranked second only to Pittsburgh in fewest points allowed per game.
Tennessee also ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game each of the past two seasons, the first time this franchise has managed that since 1995-96. The one player lost was All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth to free agency, but little is changing.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'' Cecil said.
For all the fire his players see, Cecil is soft-spoken in public. He doesn't like to embarrass players by yelling at them in front of others, and he understands what worked out of sight in the coaches' booth won't cut it now that he's on the sideline calling defenses.
That didn't stop him from writing the the word "VIOLENT'' on the board for a defensive meeting earlier this year, something defensive tackle Tony Brown called awesome.
"That's the only thing you can do in this game, especially on defense. You try to play as hard as you can and for each other. The game is violent, but not in a bad way. You have to play as hard as you can because your opponent is going to do the same thing,'' Brown said.
Some of the Titans are curious how Cecil's emotions translate into defensive calls once the season starts. They have seen clips from Cecil's playing days and already like how he puts them in the worst possible call to defend a play in practice. That prepares them for adjustments under game pressure.
End Kyle Vanden Bosch, who respected how Cecil overcame any physical limitations to become feared in the NFL as a player, can't wait for the pregame speeches.
"He was such a physical, emotional-type player. As guys playing under him I think we'll really feed off of that,'' Vanden Bosch said.
Whatever Cecil wants, Harper said the Titans will be behind their coordinator - as long as he stops head-butting them before kickoff.