With 12 vacancies filled in the last few months, how will the NFL approach filling a 13th spot after the resignation of referee Mike Carey? The NFL could hire another official from college, persuade a recently retired official to come back for one more season, or they could go with 118 officials this year and have some officials pull double duty. There is a precedent for all three scenarios.
Referee Chuck Heberling retired after the 1985 NFL season and was going to be a replay official. But, in the offseason referee Fred Silva had a heart attack and wasn’t going to be ready to officiate in 1986. Heberling returned to the field for the 1986 season as Silva’s substitute. Heberling had such a good season that he was assigned the 1986 AFC Championship Game between the Browns and Broncos; that is, The Drive. Also, in 1977, umpire Paul Tripinski retired, but returned to officiate the 1978 season when an umpire was injured.
In his book First Dooowwwnnn…and Life to Go, Red Cashion recounts that he was a finalist for being hired for the 1972 season and just missed the cut. While on a family vacation that July, Cashion got a call from Art McNally. Official Jack Vest had been killed in an accident and McNally offered Cashion to be an official for the 1972 season. Cashion was the “first runner-up” in the formal off season interview process, and after Vest’s tragic death, McNally turned to Cashion. Cashion accepted, was hired as a line judge, and caught up with his fellow officials in time for the first preseason game of 1972.
If the NFL can’t convince someone to come out of retirement and they are not comfortable hiring a new official late in the process, they can just go with 118 officials for the 2014 season. That means there will be an open slot at one position. The official whose crew is scheduled to be off that week will fill in on the crew what’s down one man. This happened in 2012 when the NFL lockout actually prevented two officials from retiring until the resolution of the collective bargaining agreement; the league used officials from the crews that were off that week.