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College football referee Mike Defee takes position in NFL front office

The “Ed Hochuli” of college football leaves the field to train NFL officials.



Big 12 referee Mike Defee, who has officiated every major bowl game, and who gained fame during the 2017 College Football National Championship game, is retiring from active officiating to take a position in the NFL front office.

Defee’s new job is to coach current NFL officials, specifically focusing on the referee position.

Defee got a late start in officiating, starting in 1995 at the age of 33, working high school football in Texas. He worked his way up through the college ranks, joining the Big 12 conference in 2006 as a back judge and became a Big 12 referee in 2010. The NFL considered Defee as a potential candidate years ago. But time, age and the number of NFL openings worked against him.

Off the field, Defee is president and general manager overseeing four companies in his home town of Nederland, Texas. 

Defee officiated several high-profile Big 12 football games and post-season bowl games, but fans took notice during the 2017 national championships game. Defee has been a avid weight-lifter for decades and TV viewers took note of his physique.

Former NFL referee and former Big 12 officiating supervisor, Walt Anderson, used to supervise Defee, and now both will work in the NFL officiating office. 

In an 2017 Referee Magazine article about Defee, Anderson spoke highly of him saying,

Mike Defee is the best all-around official that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. First and foremost, he has that natural sense of leadership and, to me, that’s so important in a referee role. I think he would have been better than me, just because I believe he has the right attitude, the right approach and he understands what the commitment of time is to be really good as an official at that level and is willing to do that.

There really aren’t that many people willing to put in that kind of time and dedication. And he has the ability to break down video and recognize and see things that other people not only scan over, it’s invisible to them.

Now, Anderson and Defee will be working together to help train NFL officials.

Congratulations to Mike Defee for an outstanding on-field officiating career and best wishes to him as he helps train NFL officials.

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?"