"It caught me a little off guard, no question about that," Cecil told The Associated Press of his firing. "I understand. I'm the defensive coordinator, and we didn't play as well as needed to on defense. He's the head coach, and he has to do what he thinks is the right thing to move forward."
Cecil is a former NFL safety known for his intensity as a player, and he might be best known as a coach for being fined $40,000 by the NFL in October for his obscene gesture at officials. He was upset over a flag for a neutral-zone infraction, and his gesture with his right hand was on YouTube before the game came back from commercial minutes later.
It was seen as a lack of discipline that was reflected in the Titans, who ranked 30th in the NFL in total yards penalized (1,039 yards on 114 infractions). Tennessee also ranked 26th in total yards allowed and 29th against the pass this season, moving up two spots in each of those categories in Cecil's second season.
The defense ranked 14th in yards allowed when the Titans started the season 5-2, with the unit intercepting 12 passes and recovering six fumbles through the first five games. Then came the Titans' collapse during which the offense ranked last in the NFL in time of possession. That left the defense on the field for more than 34 minutes per game, and the Titans came up with just seven turnovers combined over the final nine contests.
"The way the stats are in the NFL, you can skew almost anything to be in your favor or against you," he said. "My biggest thing has always been points. That's how you should measure on defense. I thought we were middle of the pack there. Again, I thought our guys played hard. They believed in what we were doing. We just didn't do it well enough."
Fisher's decision came two weeks after Titans owner Bud Adams decided to either trade or release quarterback Vince Young after five seasons. The owner took two extra days before announcing that Fisher, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, would return for a 17th season. But Fisher is coaching for his future because he's only under contract for 2011.
Cecil took over as coordinator right when the Titans watched All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth leave in free agency. The Titans never really replaced Haynesworth in the middle of their defensive line, and Fisher said at the end of the season that they must get bigger at tackle this offseason.
Being friends with Fisher made the firing tougher.
"It wasn't easy on him, so I respect that," Cecil said. "If it was easy then for him, then I would probably be a little bit more insulted by that.
"Our relationship is and always will be a really good one. I can never repay him for the 10 wonderful years I had here and the things that I've learned here. I wish him nothing but the best."
Making this move even more challenging is that Cecil expected to be back for the 2011 season, so he didn't consider other job offers.
"The way this business is, things happen fast, so obviously if I'd have known last week, then I'd probably have a few more opportunities," Cecil said. "But hopefully there's still a few opportunities out there for me."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press