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NFL divides up leadership roles in the officiating department



Officiating administration has been undergoing a shift in the offseason, and the NFL announced its changes for management of the officiating department. Former referee Walt Anderson and former assistant coach Perry Fewell were previously announced as senior vice presidents in the officiating channel, but now there is a little more clarity of the leadership structure going forward.

Al Riveron, the extant senior vice president of officiating, will no longer be the head of the officiating department, which will now be run as a triumvirate of Riveron, Anderson and Fewell. They are equally placed on the league’s organization chart and all three report directly to executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent. It’s been well established that Riveron was drowning in the responsibility of the officiating department, and the prevailing thought was that new hires would be placed under him so he may delegate. Instead, Vincent placed those hires under his control, rather than Riveron’s.

Additionally, Wayne Mackie, the vice president of officiating development and one of Riveron’s deputies, has apparently left the league has been reassigned. Mackie is omitted from the league’s announcement and his duties overlap Anderson’s. The NFL and Mackie have not yet responded to our requests to confirm.

[UPDATE, 6/3/20: Wayne Mackie moved from his vice president position to that of a regional coordinator of officials, according to a league source.]

Simply put, Riveron will be in charge of just the officiating, particularly on gameday and mostly with centralized replay. Anderson will oversee a continuing education aspect, with enhanced training for officials in their first 3 seasons, a term agreed to last October in the officials’ collective bargaining agreement. Anderson will also handle all aspects of the development pool and the very long process of scouting for new officials. Fewell will take the day-to-day operations and the overhead functions of the department, as well as being the point of contact for coach and general manager officiating inquiries.

Previously, a lot of these duties that are being assigned laterally were handled by directors or vice presidents under the head of the department.

One thing is clear, Riveron is no longer the officiating boss in the manner of his predecessors: Dean Blandino, Carl Johnson, Mike Pereira, Jerry Seeman, and Art McNally.

“Our intentions are to implement meaningful improvements to the game and officiating,” Vincent said in a press release. “We will continue to make every effort to improve officiating and pursue officiating excellence.” There is a clear delineation of responsibility laid out by the league in their press release and the previously reported job functions, however crossover is bound to occur. Based on the information presented there, Riveron’s core responsibilities — as well as his influence — have been significantly curtailed.

  • enhanced training system for officials in first 3 years
  • develop performance evaluation systems for all officials
  • weekly training tapes for officials
  • re-establish program for year-round officials (“full time”)
  • scouting and recruitment
  • Officiating Development Program for potential recruits
  • oversee newly created officiating position coaches and coordinators
  • evaluate and update officiating mechanics
  • work with Competition Commitee on new rules and emphasis
  • day-to-day operations
  • answer coaches and GMs on officiating inquiries
  • CBA compliance
  • liaison with NCAA on officiating matters
  • centralized replay

Among the things not specifically addressed:

  • hiring, firing, and “dismissal by retirement” of officials
  • disciplinary measures, such as fines or suspensions
  • weekly game assignments
  • playoff assignments
  • media inquiries and gameday social media commentary
  • weekly media tapes and NFL Network segments

Assuming these are coequal positions, adding Fewell, most recently an interim coach for the Panthers, marks a return of coaching blood to the head of the officiating department for the first time in 50 years. Mark Duncan was the supervisor of officials from 1964 to 1968, after working as an assistant coach for the 49ers. In 1963, commissioner Pete Rozelle brought in Notre Dame head coach Joe Kuharich as head of officials, then facilitated moving him to the coach of the Eagles during an ownership change after one season. In the AFL, Hall of Fame single-platoon center and former coach Mel Hein was the league’s final head of officials, but by that time the NFL began centralizing that operation in preparation for the merger.

From 1938-55, an official served as a technical advisor to the commissioner, who was ultimately the officiating boss. The link between the officiating department and the commissioners office remained that way until the 1990s, when the business of football was taking on vast new dimensions. Football operations became the umbrella department that separated the business end of the league, which officiating was eventually added to, but it broke that direct reporting dynamic to the commissioner.

Now, as a functional matter, the singular head of the department is Troy Vincent. If there are any intradepartmental disagreements or philosophical differences, it would be up to Vincent to make the call.

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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