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NFL takes a hit after four referee retirements

It is time for the next generation of referee veterans to step up.



Every generation of NFL officiating gives way to the next. This past offseason, we saw, very quickly and dramatically, one generation give way to the next. Referees Ed Hochuli, Gene Steratore, Terry McAulay and Jeff Triplette represent 88-years of experience at the referee position. That is 88-years of institutional knowledge, rule expertise and mentoring.

It is time for the next generation of referee veterans to step up and into the void left by the four departures.

Nothing new

There is a long history of referees stepping into the void. In the 1970s, top-notch referees Norm Schachter and Tommy Bell retired. Veteran referees Jim Tunney and Pat Haggerty stepped up and mentored newer officials like Bob McElwee and Jerry Seeman. Those officials may or may not have been on crews with Tunney and Haggerty, but they watched the veterans and learned what it took to be a NFL referee.

Then, when Tunney and Haggerty retired, other veterans like Jerry Markbreit, Seeman and McElwee trained the referees we’ve seen the last several years.

Referees do more than train future white hats. Each referee is responsible for training new officials and struggling officials. In the book The Third Team, author Richard Lister writes that the NFL assigned several rookie officials to Tunney and Haggerty. The NFL also assigned struggling officials to the two veterans. Both referees had the reputation of being solid teachers who helped strengthen the officials’ roster.

Anecdotally, I noticed the NFL place several struggling officials on Ed Hochuli’s crew. Those officials who never graded out to get a playoff game, started getting playoff games and secured their position.

I use the above officials as examples. Other referees like Red Cashion, Gerald Austin, Dick Hantak and Dick Jorgensen also were excellent mentors and teachers over the years.

Who has next?

This is the most referee turnover in the Super Bowl era. Previously, the NFL has been able to manage turnover and till the ground for smooth transitions, but four referee retirements in one off-season presents a stressful challenge.

The most senior referees remaining on staff are Walt Coleman, Pete Morelli, Walt Anderson and Tony Corrente. Those white hats will enter their 22nd to 30th seasons this year. They still have a lot to offer, but retirement is looming.

The pressure falls on referees like John Hussey, Ron Torbert, Clete Blakeman, Craig Wrolstad, John Parry, Brad Allen and Bill Vinovich. They all have between 10-20 years left on the field. They must step in to fill the mentoring void left by retirements. All these officials have trained and mentored others over the years, but the mentoring burden was stretched out among other veterans. Now, the NFL will be leaning on these referees to fill the void.

There is no denying it; the experience at the referee position is skewing younger now that top dogs Hochuli, Steratore and McAulay have retired.

Who will make up the next pack of top dogs?

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?"