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More officials in the development pipeline, as NFL expands training program

29 individuals take part in on-field audition

This year, the NFL has accepted 29 developmental officials in its annual preseason training program, up from the 21 slots open in the previous three seasons the program has been run. This practice squad for officials was known as the advanced development program, instituted after the last collective bargaining agreement with the officials. This season, the Football Operations website refers to the program as the Officiating Development Program, a name that has referred to all of the league’s training initiatives generally; the change in terminology may reflect the fact that 3 Canadian Football League officials are part of the program, in addition to the 29 developmental officials.

These officials will attend preseason clinics, training camps, scrimmages, and crew meetings and have a chance to work preseason games. Once the regular season begins, these college and CFL officials will return to their regular conference or league to officiate. Once a vacancy opens on the NFL roster, one of the 29 college officials could be hired.

At the end of each season, the NFL evaluates each member of the developmental squad and determines if they are ready to be hired into the NFL, if they need another season in the program, or if they are not a good NFL fit. If the official is dropped from the training program, they can continue calling college football. By our count, 6  of last year’s advanced training officials were not asked back for this season (3 were hired by the NFL in May).

This year’s ODP members are listed below. Superscript numbers show the number of years a returning official has been in the league’s training programs.

  • Brian Bolinger, Big Ten
  • Mike Carr, ² Big Ten
  • Maia Chaka, ³ Conference USA
  • Land Clark, Pac-12
  • Ryan Dickson, ³ Pac-12
  • Matt Edwards, ² Big Ten
  • Marlow Fitzgerald, ² Mountain West
  • Quentin Givens, ² Big 12
  • Michael Griffith, American Athletic  
  • Nate Jones, Conference USA
  • Tony Josselyn, SEC
  • Jacob Kemp, Mid American
  • Terry Killens, American Athletic
  • Justin Larrew, Conference USA
  • Kevin Mar, ³ Mountain West
  • Mike Morton, ² ACC
  • LaShell Nelson, Conference USA
  • Justin Nelson, Pac-12
  • Lyndon Nixon, ³ Big 12
  • David Oliver, SEC
  • Nicole Randolph, Missouri Valley
  • Mearl Robinson, ² Pac-12
  • Danny Short, Atlantic Coast
  • Tab Slaughter, Big 12
  • Reggie Smith, Big 12
  • Larry Smith, Mid American
  • Frank Steratore, Big Ten
  • Mark Stewart, Big 12
  • Don Willard, Big Ten
  • Steve Woods, ² Big Ten

Additionally this year, three CFL officials are part of the ODP program:

  • Dave Foxcroft
  • Justin McInnes
  • Dave Hawkshaw

There are three women in the program, Chaka, LaShell Nelson, and Randolph.

NFL officiating has been a family affair for many years. Currently the Steratores, Bergmans and Paganellis have brother combinations on the field. The Colemans, Hochulis and Freemans have father/son combinations on the field. Joining the family affair in the training program this year are Justin Larrew (son of Joe Larrew), Frank Steratore (cousin of Tony and Gene Steratore), Jacob Kemp (brother of Alex Kemp and the son of the late Stan Kemp) and Tab Slaughter (son of former official and current regional supervisor Gary Slaughter).

Fans may huff and puff at this situation, but while the last name may open the door, these sons and brothers will have to earn their spot on the roster and prove they belong each year.

The ODP officials are not members of the NFL Referees Association (the officials’ union) and the NFL cannot hire them mid-season  to replace injured, suspended or terminated officials. The ODP officials will wear a regular NFL officials’ uniform and be numbered 136 on up.

Take a good look at these officials this preseason if you have the chance. Some of these zebras are the future of NFL officiating.

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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 “More officials in the development pipeline, as NFL expands training program

  1. My name is Nickie D’Annunzio Friend Of Gene Steratore.
    I just want to congratulate Frank Steratore (cousin of Tony and Gene Steratore),
    May he become a part of the NFL Officiating Family

  2. Congratulations Lashell Nelson. You have always been very passionate about officiating and take your job very serious since I have known you. You deserve this. I will soon see you in the NFL. We love and support you all the way. God and your skills have brought you this far and will carry on to NFL. Enjoy your blessings.

  3. Hey Sis, congratulations! Your dedication, effort and hard work are paying off as I knew they would. Congratulations on seeing your aspirations come true. Hope to see you soon on Sunday and Monday nights prime time making the big calls. Love ya Sis

  4. Is the NFL going to 8 officials next year? If so, that could be the cause of the number of ADP officials this year?

  5. Mike,

    I’m surprised that the NFL didn’t add it (center judge) this season.

  6. The placement of number 8 in the NFL seems to be a deep ump or short deep guy. Because they made such a big deal about the safety of the umpire it would be hard to put him back in the original slot

  7. Congratulations to all of those officials who are now part of the NFL’s ADP program. For those who have put their time in and worked hard to get there, I’m sure you are feeling you have finally accomplished something wonderful in your officiating career, which is great. The only issue I see is there are quite a few who have not put their time in and should not be there at this point. There is nothing worst for an official then to be pushed too fast up the ladder without getting the proper amount of grass time. Nothing replaces being there, not watching film or reading rules or attending clinics. You have to be on the field, working games to gain the proper amount of experience. It’s apparent the NFL is making every effort to cover their bases and place a wide variety of backgrounds in the program. Hopefully they keep in mind Quality is the key. No coach would go to war with a team he is not 100% sure can win. An officiating staff should be no different. If you’ve ever worked on the field you know it’s impossible to ‘hide’ or ‘cover’ for another official who shouldn’t be there, you only end up getting yourself in trouble. Just ask poor Pete Morelli about that! Good Luck to all those who have paid their dues and have gotten there due to hard work.

  8. As long as this PC hiring trend continues… the quality of officiating is going to continue to spiral downwards. Hiring is being done based upon criteria other than ability and experience!

    I can tell you firsthand that some of the newer officials are flat out incompetent. But, they allow the league to check a box! The sad part is that there are extremely good officials with a ton of experience working the big ten, the sec, and other major conferences that are being passed over because of the sin of being white males.

    When does the league start hiring players based upon a quota system?

  9. @Al- no kidding on the Pete Morelli debacle last year. Why the league has any interest in hiring female officials is beyond me. Sarah was woefully unprepared for the NFL… and there are dozens of far more qualified officials that have been passed over and are working power 5 conferences. And, anyone who tries to defend the hiring practice… start by refuting the point that there are dozens of more competent and qualified officials working college games! You can’t! These college guys are far superior!

    And, there are plenty of others. Ask Gene Steratore about an incorrect game ending call by an HL who applied college rules! Was that HL ready for the NFL? And, that HL is way better than what Clete Blakeman had to work with.

    Stop with the stupid training program and just hire the best officials from the power 5!

  10. FYI, for the record, some of the best officials in the league are black. There is no reason why the league should not hire black officials. The issue is that the league is prioritizing the hiring of black, hispanic and now (on a whim of pure PC) female officials, and as a result some of the younger ones are inexperienced and not so great.

    The league should be hiring the best officials available. Skin or kin should never factor in!

    Another FYI, the lone female official is horrible and all the hispanic officials I have come across are subpar.

  11. Incognito and from the sideline: it sounds to me like you have hit the nail on the head. if you have ever officiated a game you know that its not what the official looks like, size, shape, color or whatever, all you care about is can they work and will they hold up their end when the ‘stuff hits the fan’. True test is to answer the question, who do you want in a foxhole with you when you go to war! good stuff!

  12. And so starts another year. Sara Thomas had a terrible game in Atlanta tonight. No surprise with Triplette at the helm. Close to 30 fouls for the crew. She had an incorrect call on a DOF (not even close) but no harm no foul on a large gain; then followed it up with an absolutely putrid non-existent illegal formation foul – receiver was lined up exactly where he had been the entire drive, yet for some reason she decided to throw a flag because she “thought” he was in the backfield when again, it wasn’t even close and this is where the guy was lining up all series. Then to make matters worse, missed a monster grab-twist-huge restriction up in the neck area hold in the area she should have been lasered in on, right at the point of attack which sprung the returner (he would have made the tackle) on the opening kickoff of the second half that was not called back because she wasn’t looking where she should have been on the play. Yep, a missed call which resulted in a TD. This is what you get when you put an official with 6 years HS experience right into major college for a few games, then into the NFL. It’s only going to get worse, with an official now in the development program who has only worked three – YES THREE college games in her career but you can rest assured she will be in the NFL for the 2017 season. But what the hell, she has two of the intangibles that many of the good ones who will never get an opportunity will never possess.

  13. Victor– I agree that Sarah is completely in over her head and Roger Goodell should be fired for this PR Stunt. However, she is not alone in being unqualified. There are quite a few subpar officials working in the league now.

    Sadly, the better officials currently working in the league know it and work hard to cover for their unqualified partners. If you speak to them, they will admit to it and even name names.

    The league has prioritized political correctness over quality and the end result is that the officiating has suffered.

  14. I have quite a bit of knowledge of the officiating that occurs in the NFL, and I would say that the quality of the new officials coming in to the league has been going down each and every year. I won’t jump on the bandwagon and blame it on any one reason… but do the math.

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