There are very few chances for the NFL to test officials for future referee openings. If an official was a referee in college they will get a close look, but college experience isn’t a prerequisite to be a referee.
The NFL traditionally wants an official to put in 10-15 years as a referee, so if the official isn’t moved to the white hat by age 55, it might not happen. There are two exceptions that I can remember. Cal Lepore and Scott Green both became referees in their mid-50s and worked less than 10 years at the position.
In the past 10 years or so, the NFL assigns an official to work as a referee during a preseason game. This serves as an audition to be a NFL referee.
In recent seasons, the NFL hired college referees and put some of them at umpire. Since the umpire now lines up in the backfield at all times, they get a similar look at the game as a referee and learn how to be a white hat in the pros. Last year, the NFL promoted Shawn Smith and Clay Martin from the umpire position, the first time we have on record where an umpire was promoted to referee. (Referee Brad Allen was originally slated to be an umpire, but he was promoted to referee before he started his first season to fill the vacancy left by Mike Carey.) Deep officials Alex Kemp and Shawn Hochuli were also moved to referee last year.
It will be interesting to see if any potential referee candidates move to umpire next season, if there are any openings at that position.
So, who are the candidates for referee in 2019? Last season, we correctly identified the top 3 candidates (who would have thought to list 4?) to be promoted. This season, it is not as clear who is on the top for consideration, but here’s our breakdown:
Rogers completed his second season as a NFL deep wing. He worked this past season on Shawn Smith’s crew. He worked a divisional playoff this postseason, his first year eligible.
Previously he worked in the Southeastern Conference and Conference USA as a referee.
Rogers got his start officiating in high school football in Texas in 1991, and one of his high school crews featured officials who all eventually worked Division I college football.
He had an audition at referee this past preseason, and did an outstanding job.
I expect Rogers to get a white hat very soon.
The NFL hired Clark for the 2018 season as a field judge on Carl Cheffers crew. It was a bit of a surprise that the NFL took Clark because he is in his mid-50s. To my knowledge, that makes Clark the oldest NFL rookie official in the Super Bowl era.
Clark was a referee for several years in the Pac-12 conference and we almost always saw him referee a New Years Day bowl game. He also worked the college football national championship game.
Since Clark was a rookie this year, he wasn’t eligible for a playoff game. We don’t know how he graded.
The NFL has promoted officials to referee after one season, including Jerry Markbreit and Tom White. They could do the same with Clark.
Clark is in phenomenal physical shape and could easily put in 10 years as a referee. Also, a shorter-term tenure at referee by Clark could help the NFL space out referee turnover in the next 10-20 years and not have a mass exodus at the position like last year.
If the NFL wants Clark to be a referee, the time is now. If not this year, next year for sure.
Adrian Hill entered the NFL in 2010 from Conference USA where he was a crew chief. In 2007, Hill worked in the now-defunct NFL Europe league as a line judge.
Hill has worked as a line judge and as a field judge and side judge in the NFL. He didn’t receive any playoff games as a line judge but found his stride at as a deep wing where he’s worked three playoff games including a wild card round this past season.
He’s auditioned for referee four times. Since the NFL is giving him playoff games, he may be back in the mix for referee.
But, after four auditions and not getting one of the four openings last year, his white hat window may be starting to close.
Anderson has been an umpire, side judge and a field judge since joining the NFL in 2007. He was umpire on Carl Cheffers crew this season.
He has collegiate experience at the referee position. He was seen and heard in the NFL Network’s SoundFX in 2013 when he issued a sideline warning on the Raiders bench when they encroached the sideline border during the game.
Anderson called seven playoff games in his career — four as a deep wing and the rest at umpire — including a divisional round this year.
After 12 seasons and five referee auditions, his opportunity to be a referee may be closing.
Rogers, Hill and Anderson are the main candidates, but there could be others in the mix, if not this year, then for a referee assignment in the near future.
Scott Novak completed his fifth season in the NFL, all as a side judge or field judge. He worked on Brad Allen’s crew this season.
He had a decorated career as a college referee in the Big 12 conference, calling many high profile games including, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the 2012 BCS Championship game.
He worked three playoff games in his career, but he didn’t have any playoff assignment this year…not even at alternate. That may have damaged his chances to be a referee this year.
Willard worked as a Big 10 referee and just completed his rookie season as a field judge on John Hussey’s crew. I watched him work college games and he has all the tools necessary to be a successful NFL referee.
Look for him to audition for referee in the 2019 preseason. He’s in his late 40s, so time is on his side.
Eck just completed his third season — one as a deep wing and two at umpire on Tony Corrente’s crew.
While Eck had much success as a college referee in the Big 12 conference, he has yet to find playoff success in the NFL. This does not necessarily mean he is not playoff grade, which is due to an assignment oddity. For the past 2 seasons, no umpires have received alternate assignments in the playoffs, except for the Super Bowl, in order to have an alternate referee for all games. This means we don’t have a true picture of performance at that position compared to others.
If he starts to excel playoff-wise at umpire, look for the NFL to give him an audition for referee.
Monroe just completed his fourth season at side judge on Jerome Boger’s crew. He’s worked in the playoffs in two out of three years eligible, including a divisional playoff game this year.
Monroe worked in the American Athletic Conference in college, mostly as a deep wing. He worked a few non-conference, early-season games as a referee in college. While he doesn’t have much experience as a college referee, the NFL could take a look at him.
While several officials might like to be a referee, there are only 17 openings. Not everyone can wear the white hat.
Expect word to trickle out in early spring about new hires, including new referees for 2019. Chances are, it will be two of the names above.