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NFL has only 1 retirement and 3 new hires, applying brakes to officiating staff turnover

2106 season will have 5 swing officials supporting the 17 crews.



The NFL has halted a two-year slide of attrition in the ranks of its officiating department. After replacing roughly one-fifth of the on-field officiating staff in 2014 and 2015 combined, the inbound rookies can now be counted on one hand.

Related: Officiating crews for the 2016 season

There was only one on-field retirement in the offseason, head linesman George Hayward. Hayward (pictured above) officiated in 19 playoff games in his 25-year career, and was given a Pro Bowl assignment in Hawaii for his final game. In addition, replay official Howard Slavin, who has worked in the booth every season since the current replay system was rebooted in 1999, has retired.

Three NCAA officials were hired by the league in the offseason, listed here with the conference and officiating coordinator they worked under:

  • SJ Alan Eck (Big 12, Walt Anderson)
  • U Ramon George (Conference USA, Gerry Austin)
  • HL Jerod Phillips (Big 12, Anderson)

All three officials had one preseason in the Advanced Development Program, a program instituted in 2013 to bring college officials in to shadow a crew in preseason and to get some on-field repetitions. To date, no official has been in the program more than two years.

By bringing in three and subtracting one, this will increase the size of the officiating staff to 124. As a result, five veteran officials will be designed as swing officials, and will be assigned to different crews during the season. The swing officials also provide a bench in case an official is injured during the season. Last season, due to the injury to line judge Gary Arthur and the cancer treatments umpire Bill Schuster received, the swing officials actually received standing assignments to a crew for a portion of the season. (A third official, James Coleman, was moved to a swing position after a minicamp injury, and returned late in the season.) Schuster and Coleman will be swing officials this season.

In a span of two seasons (2014 to 2015), 23 new officials were hired, representing about 20 percent of the staff. This is compared to the 8 new officials hired from 2010 to 2013. Because of the lack of turnover in previous years, this has caused a recent accelerated turnover, which has been cited as one reason in the general perception of a decline in officiating performance last season.

Some other staffing developments have also emerged:

  • The replay assistants, who provide secondary support to the replay officials, are no longer assigned to a crew. The NFL will assign the replay assistants to games on a regional basis. Replay officials will continue to be assigned to a crew, but it means that some longstanding tandems in the replay booth are now broken up.
  • The Advanced Development Program has trained 21 officials per season in the three seasons it has existed. This season, there is an indication that this group will be expanded to more than 30 officials. There will also be 3 officials from the Canadian Football League in the program, as part of a cross-border development initiative between the two leagues.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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