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Arizona players ‘shocked’ by Marcel Yates’ firing, but know a change was necessary

arizona-wildcats-marcel-yates-chuck-cecil-reaction-scottie-young-jace-whittaker-jarrius-wallace Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sunday is normally a day of rest for the Arizona Wildcats, a chance to recover from Saturday’s game and get prepared to start up again on Monday.

But this past Sunday was a little different for Arizona, particularly for those on the defensive side of the ball when they learned coordinator Marcel Yates and linebackers coach John Rushing had been fired. In their place were a pair of analysts, Chuck Cecil and Hank Hobson, former UA players who had been with the program for the past few seasons.

“It was shocking,” junior safety Scottie Young Jr. said of the news. “Coach Yates, he recruited me, he recruited a lot of guys here.”

Young said he heard about the firings from fellow junior linebacker Colin Schooler, and then after that the news “kind of spread like wildfire.” Coach Kevin Sumlin said he spoke with a few players on Sunday about the changes, but it wasn’t until Monday afternoon’s team meeting that the entire roster got a formal explanation and were addressed by their new coaches.

“Nobody saw it coming,” senior cornerback Jace Whittaker said. “It’s hard when you develop a relationship with somebody like that, you have respect for somebody like that who taught you so much about the game. But you understand it’s a business aspect and it’s what’s best for the team.”

Yates and Rushing were let go in the wake of Arizona’s 41-31 loss at Stanford, its third straight defeat during which it allowed 133 points. The Wildcats are giving up 35 points per game, last in the Pac-12, and only four FBS teams have allowed more opponents to score 30 in a game than the six times Arizona has.

“Could we have done better? Yes,” Whittaker said. “Is it on the coaches? Not 100 percent. It’s on the players, and a lot of it goes hand in hand.”

Young said he’s yet to reach out to his former coach, but will soon. For the meantime, though, he’s trying to focus on the immediate, namely Saturday’s Homecoming game against Oregon State.

“We’ve got to block out the outside noise,” Young said.

Added junior safety Jarrius Wallace: “I’m just worrying about winning the next football game.”

Cecil, a consensus All-American and Pac-10 defensive player of the year in 1987, had been serving as a senior defensive analyst since 2017. That meant he had some involvement in the gameplan each week, which Whittaker said can only help make the changeover go smoothly.

“The transition process isn’t too difficult when you have someone who’s been here who you can trust,” Whittaker said, noting that in the past Cecil has suggested things he could change about his game. “He didn’t hold back on telling me what I could do better. Two years ago he told me I needed to get on special teams.”

There’s also great respect for Cecil, thanks to his place in Arizona football history as a player as well as his enthusiasm as a coach.

“He’s an exciting person, he’s fun to be around,” Young said. “Everybody knows him, everybody respects him. He’s very passionate. He brings a certain type of fire.”

Said Whittaker: “It’s something about his aura and the energy he brings every single day. He’s a legend, everywhere you look around campus, his name and his face is on it.”

On Monday, Sumlin indicated that no wholesale changes are expected to accompany the coaching ones, particularly of the schematic variety. Mostly, he just expects Cecil’s unit to play with more energy.

The players seem to feel the same way.

“I don’t think nothing will change defensively,” Wallace said. “The big change is that we just need to win. Play better, play with more chemistry and make things better.”