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‘I saw it on film’: What do officials do when coach puts little ‘bug’ in their ears?



Coaches love to alert officials to opponent’s rule violations

From Pop Warner to the NFL, every officiating crew meets with the head coach individually before each game.  The purpose of the meeting is to:

  • Make sure all players are properly equipped
  • Get captain’s numbers
  • See if there are any trick plays or formations that the crew should be alert for
  • Ask the coach if he has any questions

Ninety-nine percent of the time these pregame meetings are very friendly.  Every once in a while though, the coach, still being very friendly, wants to tell the officials that they’ve spotted the opponent doing something illegal on the scouting film and could the crew “please watch for that.”  The coach usually wants to alert the crew that the opponent:

  • Uses an illegal formation
  • Uses illegal blocking techniques
  • Hits after the whistle

The officiating crew assures the coach that they will watch out for the coach’s concern.  The crew does not tell the opposing coach of anything discussed.  The officials will watch out for the coach’s request, but if they obsess over spotting it, they will miss several other calls.  

Many times the team the officials are supposed to watch don’t do what the opposing coach alleges he saw on film.  But, sometimes the foul shows up and the official flags it.  

I officiate high school football.  On two occasions this year a coach told us to “watch out for” a certain illegal activity.  In one game the coach told us that the films showed the opponent hurdling over the center on extra point kicks, which is against the rules in high school.  As umpire it was my responsibility to watch for such illegal activity.  There were about eight extra points in that game and not once did any player ever come close to hurdling the center on an extra point.  In the second instance another coach warned us that the films show the opponent “does a lot of chop blocking.”  We assured the coach we’d watch for the activity.  On the second play from scrimmage that team committed a chop block.  It was the first ever chop block I called in my officiating career.  I didn’t go into the game thinking, “I’ve got to call a chop block to make that coach happy.”  I watched the blocking and when I saw the chop block I thought, “Sure enough, there it is,” and I dropped the flag.

Coaches at all levels try to put a bug in the officials’ ears to watch the other team commit fouls.  The officials act with courtesy to these requests and then go out and officiate their regular game.  If the officials detect a foul, they’ll drop their flag — not to make a coach happy, but because the foul is actually there.

Image: Ben Liebenberg/NFL

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?"