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.