Cecil Isbell

American football player and coach (1915–1985)

Cecil Isbell
No. 17
circa 1937
Born:(1915-07-11)July 11, 1915
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Died:June 23, 1985(1985-06-23) (aged 69)
Hammond, Indiana, U.S.
Career information
Height6 ft 1 in (185 cm)
Weight190 lb (86 kg)
NFL draft1938 / Round: 1 / Pick: 7
Drafted byGreen Bay Packers
Career history
As coach
1943Purdue (assistant)
1947–1949Baltimore Colts
1950–1951Chicago Cardinals (OC/QB/RB)
1952Dallas Texans (backfield)
1953LSU (backfield)
As player
1938–1942Green Bay Packers
Career highlights and awards
Career stats
Games played54
Passing yards5,945
Passer rating72.6
Rushing attempts422
Rushing yards1,522
  • Coaching stats at Pro Football Reference
  • College Football Hall of Fame

Cecil Frank Isbell (July 11, 1915 – June 23, 1985) was an American football quarterback and coach. He played 5 seasons in the National Football League (NFL) with the Green Bay Packers, leading them to the NFL Championship in 1939. He retired after the 1942 season to become an assistant coach at his alma mater, Purdue University, and the following year became its head coach for three seasons.[1][2]

Isbell was the head coach of the Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference from 1947 to 1949, resigning after four winless games.[3] He then became an assistant under former head coach Curly Lambeau, now with the Chicago Cardinals. When Lambeau resigned late in the 1951 season, Isbell was the interim head coach for the final two games, which they split. Isbell's pro head coaching record was 10–23–1. He was hired as an assistant coach with the Dallas Texans of the NFL in 1952. Isbell was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1967.

Early life and college playing career

Born in Houston, Texas, Isbell was the second son of Adger and Sarah Isbell. His older brother Cody was also a football player for Purdue and his two younger brothers also played college football: William Adger "Dub" Isbell Jr. at Rice Institute and Larry Isbell at Baylor University.

Isbell attended Sam Houston High School in Houston, then went to Purdue, where played from 1935 through 1937. He was voted the Boilermakers' most valuable player for the 1937 season. In the summer of 1938, he led the College All-Stars to victory over the defending NFL champion Washington Redskins at Soldier Field in Chicago. Isbell was named the game's MVP as the All-Stars prevailed, 28–16.[4]

NFL playing career

Isbell was selected in the first round of the 1938 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, the seventh overall pick.[5] When he arrived in Green Bay, the Packers already had an All-Pro tailback, Arnie Herber. who had led the Packers to the NFL championship in 1936. Coach Curly Lambeau alternated Isbell and Herber and occasionally used them in the same backfield, with Isbell at halfback. This "platooning" allowed Isbell to learn Lambeau's offense, the Notre Dame Box. Isbell was a very accurate passer and a good runner and he led the Packers in rushing and passing in his rookie year. The Packers came in first in the West and faced the New York Giants in the championship game at the Polo Grounds. Isbell rushed 11 times for 20 yards and was 3 of 5 passing for 91 yards, but the Giants prevailed, 23–17. In 1939, the Packers used the same attack and again Isbell led the team in rushing while catching 9 passes as well. The Packers again won the Western division and faced New York in a rematch from the year before. This time the game was played in Milwaukee and Green Bay crushed the Giants, 27–0, with Isbell throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass.

From 1940 to 1942, the Packers finished second in the West to the Chicago Bears each year. Isbell became a more accomplished passer during this time, connecting regularly with Don Hutson in record-setting frequency. In 1941, Isbell set an NFL record for yards passing with 1,479 and led the league in completion percentage (56.8%) and touchdown passes with 15 (10 to Hutson).[6] The Packers finished the season tied with Chicago, but lost to the Bears in a divisional tiebreaker playoff, 33–14. In 1942, Isbell surpassed his own record with 2,021 yards passing and set a new record with 24 touchdown passes. Hutson also set NFL records with 74 receptions, 1,211 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns (Hutson's touchdown mark was matched by Elroy Hirsch in 1951 and stood until 1984). Still, the Packers finished second to Chicago, who were 11–0 in the regular season.

After the 1942 season, Isbell quit the NFL after just 5 years.[7] He finished with 5,945 yards passing, 61 touchdowns, and 52 interceptions. According to Isbell, he retired because he'd been offered a coaching job and he thought it was too good an offer to pass up. He later admitted that accepting the coaching job was a mistake, saying, "If it means anything to anyone, I should've kept playing."

Former NFL & Green Bay Packers record
  • Held the NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 23 games from 1940 to 1942. (These were the last 23 games of Isbell's career.) The record was later surpassed by Johnny Unitas in 1957 before Drew Brees eclipsed it in 2012.[8][9] He held the Green Bay Packer record until it was later surpassed by Brett Favre in 2003.[10]
  • First player to pass for 2,000 yards in a season in 1942.[11]

The Professional Football Researchers Association named Isbell to the PRFA Hall of Very Good Class of 2008.[12] Isbell is one of ten players that were named to the National Football League 1930s All-Decade Team that have not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1972.[13]

Coaching career

Isbell started out at Purdue as an assistant coach in 1943 and took over as head coach in 1944. He coached there for three years with a 14–14–1 record. In 1947, he became a pro coach for the Baltimore Colts in the All-America Football Conference.[14] He lasted for 2⅔ seasons, resigning prior to the fifth game in 1949.[3] His one claim to fame from those years in the AAFC was he was the first coach of Y. A. Tittle, who went on to great success in the NFL. After a few more years as an assistant coach in the NFL coaching the Chicago Cardinals under head coach Curly Lambeau, and later the Dallas Texans, Isbell quit football for business in the mid 1950s.

Honors and death

Isbell was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1967. On June 23, 1985, Isbell died in Hammond, Indiana. His tombstone gives his name as Cecil Fay Isbell.

Head coaching record


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Purdue Boilermakers (Big Ten Conference) (1944–1946)
1944 Purdue 5–5 4–2 3rd
1945 Purdue 7–3 3–3 T–4th
1946 Purdue 2–6–1 0–5–1 9th
Purdue: 14–14–1 7–10–1
Total: 14–14–1


Team League Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Win % Result
BCL AAFC 1947 2 11 1 .154 4th in AAFC East
BCL AAFC 1948 7 7 0 .500 T–1st in AAFC East 0 1 .000 Lost to Buffalo Bills in Division Playoff.
BCL AAFC 1949 0 4 0 .000 6th in AAFC
CRD NFL 1951 1 1 0 .500 6th in NFL
BCL Total 9 22 1 .290 0 1 .000
CRD Total 1 1 0 .500
Total[15] 10 23 1 .303 0 1 .000


  1. ^ "Packer hall of famer Cecil Isbell, 69, dies". Milwaukee Sentinel. June 24, 1985. p. 1, part 2.
  2. ^ "Ex-Packer star Isbell dies". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. June 24, 1985. p. 1, part 3.
  3. ^ a b "Isbell resigns at Baltimore". St. Petersburg Times. Florida. Associated Press. September 23, 1949. p. 26.
  4. ^ "Collegians whip Redskins eleven". Tuscaloowa News. Alabama. Associated Press. September 1, 1938. p. 11.
  5. ^ "1938 NFL Draft Listing". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  6. ^ "Cecil Isbell Stats". Pro-Football-Reference.com.
  7. ^ "Cecil Isbell may close grid career as all-star". Milwaukee Journal. United Press. December 22, 1942. p. 8, part 2.
  8. ^ "Broken record sounds fine to Unitas' former teammates". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  9. ^ "Cecil Isbell" (PDF). The Coffin Corner. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 24, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  10. ^ Favre, Packers have blast in San Diego, whip Chargers
  11. ^ Rivers passes through
  12. ^ "Hall of Very Good Class of 2008". Archived from the original on October 3, 2018. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  13. ^ Christl, Cliff. "Cecil Isbell". Packers.com. Archived from the original on October 3, 2023. Retrieved September 20, 2023.
  14. ^ "Isbell moves to pro team". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. February 10, 1947. p. 6, part 2.
  15. ^ Cecil Isbell Record, Statistics, and Category Ranks – Pro-Football-Reference.com

External links

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Green Bay Packers starting quarterbacks
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Purdue Boilermakers head football coaches

# denotes interim head coach

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Baltimore Colts (1947–1950) head coaches
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Arizona Cardinals head coaches
Formerly the Chicago Cardinals (1920–1959), St. Louis Cardinals (1960–1987) and Phoenix Cardinals (1988–1993)

# denotes interim head coach

Cecil Isbell—championships, awards, and honors
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Green Bay Packers first-round draft picks
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Green Bay Packers 1938 NFL draft selections
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Members of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame