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We’ve seen this before: Lack of experience part of the problem in 2015

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Too many new(er) officials can make for a rocky season

The 1990s were a time of upheaval for NFL officiating. Art McNally retired after a long career as the NFL officiating boss. Jerry Seeman succeeded McNally. Seeman was ready build on McNally’s work and that work included making an imprint on the officiating staff.

From 1991 – 1995 many NFL officials left the field – either through voluntary retirement, through Seeman encouraging them to retire, or Seeman out-and-out letting officials go. Long time officials like Pat Haggerty and Fred Wyant were terminated by Seeman (both men talked openly about this: Haggerty in Referee Magazine and Wyant in his book Offsides!). Other veteran officials like Jerry Bergman, Sr., Don Wedge, Bob Wortman, Gordon Wells, Leo Miles and Gordon McCarter retired.

Tragically, Seeman was forced to fill unexpected vacancies through the untimely deaths of referees Dick Jorgensen, Gene Barth, and Stan Kemp. Field judge Donnie Hampton and umpire Dave Hamilton also passed away during this time period.

Seeman hired many great officials during that time, including Tony Corrente, Bill Leavy, Kirk Dornan, Scott Green, Tom Stabile, George Hayward, Tony Veteri, Jr., and many others. While those officials would go on and prove themselves worthy of Seeman’s confidence, it took these men many seasons of NFL experience to become trusted veterans.

Many NFL referees retired or passed away during this time frame. Seeman promoted many officials to referee from 1991 – 95, including Bernie Kukar, Gary Lane, Ron Blum, Ed Hochuli, Mike Carey and Walt Coleman. Lane was a referee only three years before returning to side judge, where he earned a Super Bowl assignment in his first season back at the deep wing. The rest of Seeman’s referee hires all worked at least a conference championship game.

Unfortunately, not all of Seeman’s hires caught on. The NFL never publicly gives a reason for an official leaving the league, but if an official has a three-year career or less, there is a strong chance that the official wasn’t up to NFL standards and was released. I will not name those officials publicly since the NFL does not give reasons for an official’s departure, but if one has access to the officiating rosters from that era, one can see several officials with short careers.

This mix of new officials of varying abilities and learning curves, in my opinion, contributed to some errors during the 1990s.

Now jump ahead almost a quarter century. After the 2013 season, a whopping 14 officials left the league at one time – some retired, others were terminated by new vice president for officiating, Dean Blandino. After the 2014 season, another half-dozen officials left the league. Many of the new officials will be great ones. Some might not pass muster. But as these new officials gain experience, there could be some rough officiating patches – like what we saw during the Week 11 Monday Night Football game.

We’ve seen this before and unfortunately the learning curve for new officials happens during games.

The pressure continues on the NFL officiating office and veteran officials to teach these new hires what it takes to officiate in the NFL.

Are there solutions? I have a few ideas and will write about it in the coming weeks.

Photo: Referee Pat Haggerty was pressured to leave the league in 1992, helping create a vacuum of experience in the NFL in the 1990s.

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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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15 thoughts on “We’ve seen this before: Lack of experience part of the problem in 2015

  1. If they can’t do the job expected of NFL standards, then get rid of them. A part-time group of officials has a UNION?! Why? In their ‘private lives’ they make plenty. Ed H. MUST make over a million just from his law practice.
    Blandino and company need to hold them accountable, stand up to the damn union and fire those who can’t make it. Look at Bob Waggoner for example…he limps when he walks, never mind when he ‘runs.’ how did some of these guys pass the physical agility tests in June/July?

  2. I think making the officials full time, and having them study during the off-season, is probably the best way to ensure that they call things consistently and according to the rules. I also like Scott Green’s idea of expanding the use of “supplemental replay” (Blandino on the headset during replay making sure the call is right.) Finally, there’s a bunch of rules which should be changed to make them clearer and dumb stuff that we should just get rid of. (Fair catch kick? Let’s just get rid of it and spend that time studying the rules on pick plays.)

  3. I wonder then what happens to the rest of this season? Is Super Bowl 50 going to be like the rest of the season? Cause this sucks…

  4. I’ve been shocked at just how incompetent and ridiculous the NFL officials have been this year. It has become a joke. We formed leagues of officials and laughingly match them up. There are hilarious things we have seen. Ed Hochuli LOVES being on TV. When he is doing a primetime game, his crew makes a lot more calls than normal and he gives long explanations. There is no doubt whatsoever that NFL officials are more important in determining the winner of an NFL game than either offense, either defense, and either coaching crew COMBINED. It began as aggravating, now it is just hilarious. I’m nowhere near the NFL fan I was and enjoy the bumbling officials more than anything.

  5. I understand peoples wishes to keep traditions. But the refs on the field in nfl and college football are horrible. These calls are ruining the integrity of the game more than the off field antics of the players. My suggestion would be to have 3 refs on field and 2 in a booth. The ones on the field manage players and the field. Make the 2 in the both be in direct vicinity of the play by play guys. Have the play by play guys be used as part of the review. How often are the guys in any sport who are calling the play by play, especially on radio, correct. To me they are usually spot on, almost every time. And it doesn’t matter if they are home team play commentators. Utilize those guys’ experience and knowledge. The commentators usually have more knowledge, history, love of game, and experience.

  6. Jed! Jed! Jed! Are you serious? Use the play-by-play guys as part of the review? Which games have you been watching?

    Its been my experience that these so-called experts jump to conclusions needlessly and then have to correct themselves after seeing the replay multiple times. They also exhibit a complete lack-of-knowledge of the rules.

    The really good ones like Chris Spielman usually explain schemes and tactics used and rarely second-guess the officials. I suppose that’s why he’s not used as much as the other “experts”.

  7. The problem is not new officials.

    The problem is new officials who are hired for reasons other than their abilities. The league is intent on hiring skin, kin and now a woman to do this job. Don’t get me wrong…. There are plenty of qualified officials that happen to be kin or a minority… but you can’t tell me that better officials are not getting skipped over. And, the woman thing… well, that is just silly.

  8. From the sideline, you are right on. Too much nepotism (Walt Anderson’s and Ed H.’s sons in the NFL in their early 30s?! Really?!). I think too many TOO OLD of officials are in the NFL (look at the recent group picture of Morelli’s crew. Fine people I am sure, but the avg. age must be early 60s, and this with Sarah Thomas there to drop the average. Rule book is confusing in some parts, but as someone who studied it, used it on the field (yes, I did), & did alright by it, the book is not THAT bad. Blandino and the Comish need to clean house and find kinds 100% committed to the craft who they know deserve to be out there. This experiment with the developmental program is not working.

  9. Jerome- It is not necessarily age. #24 was excellent until he retired and there are a few guys now that are older and doing a good job. But others, one of whom retired this year, stayed on way too long.

    There is no way the NFL can honestly say it is hiring the best officials. Imagine an NFL team hiring players because of skin or kin.

  10. FTS,
    I agree that age should not be a determining factor if he gets the job done properly. The starting salary is $78,000 for a rookie, plus all of the incentives (travel, clothing, et al), with guys like Walt Anderson and Ed H. making 15K a game EASILY. Add on playoff bonuses, A PENSION FOR PART-TIME WORK, and these guys hang on too long for the $$.

  11. I like coming here to read real analysis and criticism of football officiating. Because you can’t find it elsewhere, at least not much of it (since the NFL’s $$$ thwarts almost all negative and critical analysis/comments by 99% of the media). It’s good to know there are others who watch NFL football and see what is glaringly obvious – NFL officiating sucks and is by far the worst group of officials in any major US sport. And that includes professional basketball officiating which is a joke just like the sport. But at least with the NBA, you know up front the officials are on the take, or have put away their whistles, or are otherwise just bystanders (because the NBA wants it that way). The NFL wants it both ways – to have the illusion of professionalism, impartiality and fairness (in officiating) while at the same time, using the officials to determine the outcome of games. Or at the least – allowing the officials to determine the outcome of football games. Looking the other way when the officials screw up, over and over again, and cost teams (Detroit Lions anyone?) wins. In the end we can all debate why NFL officiating sucks so bad, and talk about ways that might fix this mess. But the reality is the NFL wants it this way and will do nothing (aside from hanging up some window dressing and blaming the occasional scapegoat) to change it.

  12. You guys can’t be serious… First, this article implies that the rookie officials are screwing up the game. Honestly, have you seen any rookies make some glaring mistakes? No rookies (or guys with less than 3 yrs experience, or legacies) were involved in these high profile screw ups.

    Secondly, those of you who say making officials full time would solve things… HOW? I like Joe McLaughlin’s comment about having them study rules in the offseason… you act like these guys don’t think about football at all until Sunday. Nothing could be further from the truth. These guys put so much time in during the week, plus do their normal jobs (which probably take less time than their NFL preparation).

    You guys act like the officials are incompetent, but some fouls THE LEAGUE WANTS THEM CALLED THAT WAY! It’s not an easy job.

  13. Agreed BubbaRay. These guys are judged from the moment they get on the plane to go to a game. And, they are very good. Just think of how many times they make the right call on a bang bang play without the advantage of replay.

    The one exception to the rookie rule (that comes to mind immediately) is the non out of bounds call on Sammy Watkins vs the Patriots on Monday night football. Clearly, that was a mistake and the official was a rookie or year two guy.

    I do think the league should be more focused on hiring the absolute best and not checking off diversity and nepotism boxes. That being said… some of the best officials are minority and legacy officials. But, the bias is obvious and not helping.

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