NFL officiating was center stage last week as two of its top referees, Terry McAulay and Gene Steratore, abruptly announced their retirement from the field in order to become rules analysts on network TV. At the end of the 2017 season, Jeff Triplette and Ed Hochuli retired.
This is the first time since at least the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that we will have four first-year referees in one season. Obviously the inaugural 1960 AFL season featured all new referees heading the 5 crews.
At the conclusion of the season, our speculation about the new referees was right on. We correctly predicted Alex Kemp and Shawn Hochuli as the new referees, noting that Hochuli’s advance was contingent on his father’s retirement. In announcing Terry McAulay’s retirement, officiating boss Al Riveron also stated that umpire Shawn Smith will replace McAulay. Smith was the third name we had on our list of potential white hats.
We welcome Shawn Smith as our newest @NFL referee for the 2018 season! After 3 seasons as an umpire, Shawn steps into the position vacated by the retirement of 20-year veteran Terry McAulay. We wish Terry the best! pic.twitter.com/fldoLIK6e2
— Al Riveron (@alriveron) June 21, 2018
We have yet to hear who will replace Steratore. Our depth chart in February only had three names, so it’s not clear who would be next in line. Riveron likely had Hochuli, Kemp and Smith penciled in as the next white hats and the 2018 preseason and regular season would allow him to rank the next three referees for future openings. Steratore’s retirement could have thrown that plan into flux.
With just 37 days until the kickoff of the first preseason game, Riveron is considering several referee candidates with no clear-cut leader, but we can isolate that to seven officials.
Adrian Hill entered the NFL in 2010 from Conference USA where he was a crew chief. In 2007, Hill worked in the now-defunct NFL Europe league as a line judge.
Hill has worked as a line judge and as a field judge in the NFL. He didn’t receive any playoff games as a line judge, but he worked the 2014 and 2015 playoffs after being moved to field judge.
Hill auditioned at the referee position last preseason and in 2013.
While he remains in the mix for the referee position, I would think that the NFL would like a larger playoff résumé out of Hill before awarding him a white hat.
Martin came to the NFL in 2015 after officiating in Conference USA (video), including time at referee where he called the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl.
In the NFL, Martin worked one playoff game in two seasons eligible and he auditioned for referee last year.
In the three seasons I’ve observed him, he appears to have the tools to become a referee.
Martin is in his early 40s, so time is on his side. Martin will most likely remain in the mix as a potential referee.
Barry Anderson has been an umpire, side judge and a field judge since joining the NFL in 2007. He has collegiate experience at the referee position. He was seen and heard in the NFL Network’s SoundFX in 2013 when he issued a sideline warning on the Raiders bench when they encroached the sideline border during the game.
Anderson has worked six playoff games and one Pro Bowl.
This is Anderson’s 12th NFL season this coming fall. While he has auditioned for referee in the 2014, 2015, and 2017 preseasons, others have been named referee ahead of him and his window may be closing, if it hasn’t already closed.
There could be other candidates who may be added to the mix.
Eck was a Big 12 collegiate referee and worked one season as a deep wing and last year worked his first season as an umpire — a signal that the NFL could be considering him for a referee, and wants to see how he calls the game from the offensive backfield.
But Eck has yet to audition for the referee position in the NFL. We’ll see if that is a factor in the selection process.
Novak was a high-level Big 12 referee who called several bowl games. He was hired into the NFL as a deep wing in 2014. He has worked a playoff game in each of his three seasons eligible.
Surprisingly he hasn’t auditioned for the referee position. We will see if he is given consideration moving forward.
Willard comes to the NFL from the Big 10. He was hired into the NFL as a deep wing after several seasons as a white hat in college. There is recent precedent for the NFL to hire an official directly into the NFL as a referee.
Clark is one of the oldest officials hired into the NFL, in his mid-50s. While he is in outstanding physical condition and could put in 10 seasons, his hire was curious as an official’s NFL window usually closes around age 50.
Clark comes to the NFL as a high-profile college referee, having called several New Year’s Day bowl games.
Is the NFL thinking they will fast track Clark to be a referee? If so, Clark could be a “double rookie” this year (debuting in the NFL at the referee position). Or, he could be next in line next season if other referees retire.
It is still a new idea, but it appears that the NFL is putting potential referees at the umpire position. This gives the umpire a similar angle as the referee, plus it gives a veteran white hat the chance to mentor and develop the prospective referee.
If the NFL moves a collegiate referee to umpire (like Willard, Clark, or Novak) that is a big hint about who Riveron is considering for future white hats. Typically, crews are known in May, but sources say that the 2018 crews have not been disseminated. Obviously, that will be delayed even more.
The NFL referee is the most important hire Riveron has to make. I am interested — as are many of the officials — in seeing who gets the big promotion.