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NFL preparing to hire new officials

Commentary by Mark Schultz

We are coming up on a critical few weeks in the NFL as vice president for officiating, Dean Blandino, will be hiring new officials, assigning positions, and beginning the orientation process for the new pro zebras. While 2014 saw a near-record number of retirements – forced or voluntary – I predict we will not see such a drastic change this year.

One year ago, the NFL saw some of the most wide-spread change in a generation as 13 officials retired before the start of the 2014 season and two more officials, Kirk Dornan and Chad Brown, retired in the middle of the season.  Other officials missed significant time due to injury or illness and it is unclear whether those officials will answer the bell for 2015.

The NFL already has three slots to fill with the retirements of Brown, Dornan and Tom Stabile.  As of now, we don’t know of any more officials who have decided to retire, but there could be more openings as officials evaluate their standing with the league, their age and their health.  Also, the NFL could weed out officials who are not performing to standards, creating more openings.

Each official has to pass a physical exam each year during the offseason.  In the past, those exams have uncovered health problems forcing officials to retire.

Right now my gut tells me that we won’t see dramatic change in staff for 2015.  The NFL saw many officials retire last year and the NFL also weeded out some officials that they felt needed to retire.  I think Blandino weeded out the officials he thought needed to go last year, either due to eroded skills or for the sake of bringing in new officials.  The NFL needs to manage its roster turnover, and double-digit departures in two straight years would bring in too many inexperienced officials.

Female officials

This could be the year that the NFL officially breaks the gender barrier and hires a female official full time.  Sarah Thomas has spent two years on the advanced training roster, working NFL preseason games, being mentored and being scouted by the NFL.  Maia Chaka has also spent time on the advanced training roster, and the NFL could add another female official in the program — possibly Cat Conti, a NCAA Division I official.  Whoever is the first female hired, they will feel the pressure to succeed, so I think Blandino wants to make sure the first female official is really ready to go; however the commissioners’ office could be anxious to see history made.  “You are going to see one or two female officials this year,” an officiating source told Football Zebras.

New white hats?

Last season saw three new referees appointed including double rookie Brad Allen, who became a referee after the surprise retirement of Mike Carey.  Craig Wrolstad and Ron Torbert became white hats to replace the retired Scott Green and Ron Winter.  At times, the NFL prods referees to retire if they have a veteran official waiting to be a white hat.  The NFL encouraged Gerald Austin to retire to make room for Alberto Riveron to be a referee.  There were rumblings that the NFL encouraged Winter to retire after 2014 to make room for a new referee.  I don’t think we’ll see something like that happen this year.  When Mike Carey suddenly retired, the NFL tapped Allen to replace him.  If the NFL were anxious to promote a veteran official to white hat, they would have done so and not assigned Allen.  I predict that if a referee retires this year, but will be his own choice and not with any “encouragement.”

The NFL is now in the dark period with its officials.  The NFL does not communicate with its officials from now until May 15 — an acknowledgement that the officials are part-time.  Once May 15 rolls around we will start to get quite a bit of officiating news. (Be sure to subscribe to our offseason e-mail newsletter to be notified when we have new content.)
Photo: Side judge Tom Hill (from Getty Images)

Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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15 thoughts on “NFL preparing to hire new officials

  1. No news about adopting it full time. Expect more experimentation this preseason. IMO it is center judge or nothing.

  2. I agree about the center judge, but when they moved the umpire to the offensive backfield, it was in the name of “safety” Not sure how they can move that back to the defensive side of the ball with the union?

  3. It seems increasingly likely that the first to break the gender barrier in a permanent capacity might be determined by who has the earlier kickoff in Week 1. Nothing anywhere near confirmed, but I’m sensing both Thomas and Chaka get called up from the taxi squad this year.

  4. Im kinda surprised about Chaka, she has far less experience then Thomas. The times I have seen Chaka work, I wasn’t impressed

  5. Chaka is NOT good. Have seen her work. All the MORE THAN QUALIFIED GUYS (including replacements) who are FAR BETTER.

  6. Maia fits the position of an NFL official. She’s intelligent and physically fit to to keep up with the athletes on the field. Her dedication to the sport will take her far in the NFL. Why wouldn’t Mr. Blandino hire her as a NFL referee as her skills surpass so many current NFL officials who have been assinged to referee the game of football!

  7. B/c there are hundreds of others older (but not “old”) and more experienced who have been WAITING and who deserve to be there, but are not given a shot due to: nepotism (Hochuli’s kid); no backbone on the part of the NFL to stand up to the union and FIRE those unworthy to be a NFL official; and NOW additional demographic characteristics.

  8. Who cares about gender? If you’re good then you’re good. Can’t we ever move past the gender/race thing? We’re all Americans.

  9. No, we can’t move past it as they are both the driving forces behind almost every hiring decision from teachers to fire/police to NCAA/NFL officials to politics, and more. If they deserve to be there, great, but if they are hired because they fulfill a demographic need, well, that’s not right either.

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