Football Zebras has learned that officials Ruben Fowler, Tom Symonette and Bart Longson will not return to the National Football League in the 2021 season. Typically, the NFL does not announce why an official leaves the league, although it is most often characterized as a retirement, even if involuntary.
The league has not announced any departures yet, but hiring has already commenced for the 2021 season. The final roster is usually released in May.
Longson leaves the NFL after six seasons. The line judge was on Tony Corrente’s crew for 2020. In six seasons he had three playoff assignments: one alternate, one wild card and one divisional.
He worked the wild card this most recent season, so he graded out well. We are not sure why he left the league, but we were told that it was a voluntary retirement. It will be interesting to see if he returns to the collegiate ranks to officiate.
Tom Symonette leaves the NFL after 17 seasons. This past year, he served as a line judge on John Hussey’s crew.
In his 17 seasons, Symonette built up an impressive playoff résumé. He worked a total of 10 assignments on the field: five wild cards, three divisionals, one conference championship and Super Bowl XLVIII. However, his last playoff assignment (on-field or alternate) was 2017.
Symonette is the current coordinator of officials for the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Ruben Fowler leaves the NFL after 15 seasons. He served this past year as an umpire on Craig Wrolstad’s crew.
In 15 seasons, Fowler worked a total of eight playoff games: two wild cards, four divisionals and two conference championships. His last playoff assignment was the alternate umpire in Super Bowl LII. Fowler’s last on-field playoff assignment was in the 2014 divisional round.
More decisions coming
In addition to the three retirements, other officials might be weighing their options. Five on-field officials and two replay officials opted out due to covid-19 this past season. The NFL assured those officials that they had a spot on the roster for 2021 with no penalty. Will those officials return for 2021? Or, has one season with no football washed the passion for officiating out of their system? Of note, one of those opt-outs was Joe Larrew, who successfully lobbied to get his job back when he appealed his dismissal.
Down judge Gary Arthur did not opt-out this season, but he didn’t work any games due to injury. We don’t know what the recovery circumstances are surrounding the veteran wing official, but we will see if he returns. Arthur was severely injured in a collision on a punt return in 2015, sidelining him for several months.
The NFL may or may not hire more officials after Maia Chaka. It depends how many covid-19 opt-outs return or decide to retire.
We congratulate Tom Symonette, Ruben Fowler and Bart Longson on officiating at a level the rest of us dream about. And, we wish them the best in their future endeavors.
Photos: Ben Liebenberg/NFL, Denver Broncos photo, Donn Jones/Tennesee Titans, Miami Dolphins photo