Arizona football: Sumlin turns to Cecil as coordinator amid defensive woes
If there was a combination of transactions that Arizona Wildcats fans have longed to see, it was for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to be gone and for Chuck Cecil to take his place.
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin pulled the plug Sunday on a Yates' tenure that was nearing the end of its fourth season without any appreciable defensive improvement from when Yates arrived from Boise State after the 2015 season. The Arizona Daily Star first reported the news Sunday.
After four years, spanning two head coaches, Yates had ample time to put in his schemes and recruit his players ... and the results through eight games in 2019 were that the Wildcats ranked 118th nationally out of 130 teams in scoring defense (35.0 points per game) and 119th in total defense (469.9 yards per game).
In a results-based business, it had become impossible to support Yates.
Sumlin also cut ties with second-year linebackers coach John Rushing, and promoted former Arizona linebacker Hank Hobson from his role as a defensive analyst to step in as an on-field coach.
But the alum who will have everyone excited is Cecil, the College Football Hall of Famer who spent 15 years as an NFL assistant, all under coach Jeff Fisher with the Titans and Rams. The ex-safety known as the "Heat-Seeking Missile" with the Wildcats was Tennessee's defensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010.
Former UA coach Rich Rodriguez brought in Cecil in 2017 to be a defensive analyst, and his current title before the promotion was senior defensive analyst. While on-field coaches came and went, it was always an open question as to why Cecil didn't get one of the defensive positions.
Now, he's got it.
Perhaps what the defense needs -- heck, what the whole team needs -- is a super-charged injection of that legendary Cecil passion for the final four regular-season games.
Cecil's secondary coach during his senior year in 1987 was Duana Akina, who went on to coach three Jim Thorpe Award winners (nation's best defensive back) and 39 other defensive backs who played in the NFL (and counting).
He told me in 2009:
"I would say Chuck had the most dynamic personality of anybody I've coached. He probably affected his teammates more than any player I've had. That is true leadership. I have never coached another like him who could carry the classroom to the field and who was so damn tough."
After a three-game losing streak in which the Cats have given up at least 41 points in each games, Sumlin had nothing to lose with making a change at the end of October.
The defense has plenty of personnel-based deficiencies -- notably a lack of a pass rush -- but the defense suddenly will be worth watching again when the Wildcats take on Oregon State on Homecoming on Saturday.