Cecil left the Packers nearly a decade ago, signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Cardinals, before his playing career quietly ended with the Houston Oilers in 1995. After spending five years away from football, Cecil is again involved with the game he loves. This season, he started a coaching career with the Tennessee Titans, who the Packers will play on Dec. 16. He is a defensive assistant/quality control coach and has a variety of duties, among them film study.
"I thought that it might be something that would interest me," said Cecil regarding a coaching career. "It was something that I thought about while I played, that I considered as a future. You're not going to play forever. I love the game of football and everything that is involved in the game, not only the X's and O's, but also the camaraderie, doing battle every week ... it's just a great game and to be part of it again is real fortunate for me."
Cecil is a smart guy, even with the rough exterior and reckless style of play he exhibited on the field. He had a 3.3 grade point average while majoring in finance at the University of Arizona and was recruited by many Ivy League schools. After a standout football career in Tucson, in which he walked-on as a 148-pounder, he was selected by the Packers in the fourth round of the 1988 NFL draft. In his five years in Green Bay, his jersey became a fixture on many fans at Lambeau Field.
"The fans are probably the thing I remember the most," said Cecil. "Of course the players I played with, the people involved... it was a very special time and provided great memories for me."
Cecil's career year with the Packers came in 1992, which was ironically his last in Green Bay. With 102 tackles and four interceptions he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and became one of the most feared safeties in football. That season was the last on his contract, and with the new era of big-time free agency being ushered in at the time, he became a salary-cap casualty. Soon he was off to Phoenix, signing for $5.25 million over three years.
"I hated leaving," said Cecil. "I wanted to stay because I could see the direction the team was heading. Brett (Favre) was really starting to come into his own, but it turned into a salary cap situation because they were trying to sign Reggie (White)."
The Packers signed White just a day before Cecil signed with Phoenix. Cecil was to replace the departed Tim McDonald in the Cardinals' starting lineup, but would have accepted less money to stay with the Packers. It was not to be, however, and that made Cecil's decision an easy one. He had to capitalize on his Pro Bowl season and take care of his future.
"The thing that bothered me most about leaving is that I think people got the impression that either I was unhappy or that I wanted to leave. Nothing could be any further from the truth," said Cecil. "I wanted to stay. I had planned on staying, and I asked Mike (Holmgren) at the time, and I told him, 'I don't expect you to match the offer that Phoenix is putting out, but could you just come close or come up a little bit?' He basically called me back and said, 'Hey Chuck, listen, you need to go sign that contract.'"
Cecil's defensive coordinator at the time, Dick Jauron, told him to do the same. So he did, and thus began the essential end of his playing career. He became the NFL's wanted man in Phoenix. The black sheep of the league, so to speak.
Because of his increasing reputation as a "dirty" player by some of his critics, the NFL kept a watchful eye on Cecil. It did not take him long to create a stir. Just two games into his Cardinals' career, he was given one of the largest fines ever, $30,000, for two hits against Redskins' players that the league deemed unnecessary roughness involving the use of his helmet. Cecil speared both running back Ricky Ervins and tight end Ron Middleton during the game, both thunderous hits which helped preserve a win for the Cardinals. No penalty flags were thrown on each play and commentators, many players, and many coaches alike thought the hits were just good, clean football. The league office did not see it that way, however, saying 'striking with the crown of the helmet is prohibited.' The hit on Middleton became a major focal point.
"Here's a 280-plus pound tight end, and by player's standards, I did the right thing by hitting him up high, whereas if I do what the players would consider the cheap shot, and basically the easy way out for me, is just to go down and hit him at the knees and take his legs out from under him," explained Cecil. "If I do that, then there is a greater possibility of me ending his career or definitely doing some serious damage. Had I done that, then there would have been no repercussions from the league. So I actually did what I consider to be the stand-up thing as far as being a player, and it wound up costing me."
Cecil's style of play was never looked at the same way and his career in Arizona was marred because of it.
"Obviously things took a turn for the worse basically," said Cecil. "It just became a situation where there was a misunderstanding between myself and the league office on how the game of football was supposed to be played."
Cecil met with commissioner Paul Tagliabue to discuss the interpretation of the rules he was apparently violating. He declined to comment on how he felt the league treated him as his playing career wound down, but his style of play contributed largely to changing and clarifying the rules of the game as it is played today. Players are now routinely fined and penalized for "shots" to the head of opposing players or unnecessary roughness with their helmet.
"I applaud what they are trying to do," said Cecil. "As far as how they're doing it... it's not an easy thing."
Even after injuries and repeated stingers, Cecil never changed his approach to how he played and says he never tried to go out and intentionally hurt someone.
"I played at one speed. I only knew one way to do it. That was all out on every play," he said.
"For me, football is what I love to do. I guess because of that, I enjoyed being out there, and I enjoy everything that football represents - playing hard and tackling hard. That's just part of the game, and that's the way I learned it. That's the way I played every snap. If I finished a game and wasn't physically beat up, I was really pretty disappointed."
Cecil was released by the Cardinals after just one season and was out of football entirely in 1994. He caught on with the Oilers in 1995 before his playing career came to an end when he was 31 years old.
Before he caught on with the Titans as a coach this year, he spent the past five years actively playing on the Celebrity Golf Tour. His new job with the Titans has cut into his playing schedule on the burgeoning tour, but he says he will still try to play in a few events because he has many good friends who play on it.
Cecil puts a lick on a golf ball much like he tattooed opposing players during his football career. Whether he has that kind of impact as a coach remains to be seen, but his passion and desire for the game still burns – and that has gotten him far before.
Editor's note: This story appeared in the Dec. 15, 2001 issue of Packer Report.