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College football referee Mike Defee takes position in NFL front office

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Big 12 referee Mike Defee, who has officiated every major bowl game, and who gained fame during the 2017 College Football National Championship game, is retiring from active officiating to take a position in the NFL front office.

Defee’s new job is to coach current NFL officials, specifically focusing on the referee position.

Defee got a late start in officiating, starting in 1995 at the age of 33, working high school football in Texas. He worked his way up through the college ranks, joining the Big 12 conference in 2006 as a back judge and became a Big 12 referee in 2010.  The NFL considered Defee as a potential candidate years ago. But time, age and the number of NFL openings worked against him.

Off the field, Defee is president and general manager overseeing four companies in his home town of Nederland, Texas.  

Defee officiated several high-profile Big 12 football games and post-season bowl games, but fans took notice during the 2017 national championships game. Defee has been a avid weight-lifter for decades and TV viewers took note of his physique.  

Former NFL referee and former Big 12 officiating supervisor, Walt Anderson, used to supervise Defee, and now both will work in the NFL officiating office.  

In an 2017 Referee Magazine article about Defee, Anderson spoke highly of him saying,

Mike Defee is the best all-around official that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. First and foremost, he has that natural sense of leadership and, to me, that’s so important in a referee role. I think he would have been better than me, just because I believe he has the right attitude, the right approach and he understands what the commitment of time is to be really good as an official at that level and is willing to do that.

There really aren’t that many people willing to put in that kind of time and dedication. And he has the ability to break down video and recognize and see things that other people not only scan over, it’s invisible to them.

Now, Anderson and Defee will be working together to help train NFL officials.

Congratulations to Mike Defee for an outstanding on-field officiating career and best wishes to him as he helps train NFL officials.

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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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3 thoughts on “College football referee Mike Defee takes position in NFL front office

  1. When will nfl crews come out and who are going to be swing officials and are there going to be any more promotions to referee

  2. The only opening at the referee position, caused by Walt Anderson’s retirement, was filled by Land Clark. It appears that Walt Anderson’s influence is already being felt. However, if the NFL wanted someone to train referees, it had Ed Hochuli at its disposal. Does Hochuli no longer have a role in the department? I gather that Defee becomes a colleague of Anderson in the training and development aspect. But what puzzles me is what former Carolina Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell’s role is. He has no officiating experience, and the league has done nothing so far to clearly delineate who in the shaken-up Officiating Department is doing what — only that they’re throwing people at the problem. I hope I’m wrong, but gee, this doesn’t bode well.

  3. I think Perry Fewell was brought in because of significant communication issues between officials and coaches. When you have lived a majority of your life as an official it is easy to think like an official. Although the league keeps teams in the loop, has officials at training camps, etc., it has done a lousy job conveying translating what an official sees on a play to what a coach is looking at.

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