Jim Blackwood, a longtime college coordinator of officials and one of the innovators of the use of replay in college football, has died at the age of 81 after a brief illness.
A giant in the officiating world and a mentor to many officials, Blackwood was most recently the national replay director, a position established by College Football Officiating which he was the first to hold. CFO is an umbrella entity created in 2008 to coordinate officiating at the FBS and FCS level with support for Divisions II and III and is independent of the NCAA. He retired after the 2017 season.
“Friendship is one of the most important things we have in life,” said Bill Carollo, coordinator of Big Ten football officiating and the College Officiating Consortium. “We lost a great friend who has dedicated his life to his family and football. Jim invested over 50 years in making the game of football better.”
Blackwood served as a conference head of officiating for 25 years at the Division I level, including 14 years in the Western Athletic Conference and 11 in the Southland Conference. He succeeded Tony Corrente as the interim officiating supervisor of the Pac-12 Conference in 2014, where he served as the replay coordinator. He received the Dave Parry Award in 2013, which recognizes officiating coordinators at all levels — FBS through Division III — who have made a significant contribution through education and training officials and a lifetime dedication to the improvement of officiating. The award is presented by the CFO and named in memory of the Big Ten and national coordinator and NFL official.
Blackwood also worked in the NFL as a replay official when the league reinstated replay reviews under the current challenge system. Dean Blandino, who would rise to the senior vice president of officiating in the NFL, worked in the formative years of replay operations. He shared that, while others bristled at the fact that a junior staffer was telling them what to do, Blackwood was receptive:
When the NFL brought instant replay back in 1999 I was in my twenties and an assistant in the officiating department charged with teaching the technical aspects of the system to the replay staff which Jim was a part of. You could imagine the reaction from some of the more veteran folks, but I’ll always remember how Jim treated me with dignity and respect. He became a mentor for me throughout my career and I don’t know if I would have accomplished everything I did without him.
Blandino is now the CFO national replay director, succeeding Blackwood.
Blackwood was one of the early proponents of incorporating replay in college football, although the WAC was delayed in their implementation for two years because not all conference games were televised. After the conference withdrew from football in 2012, he joined the Pac-12 and became the preeminent voice particularly on replay mechanics.
“Jim was instrumental in my development in officiating as he was for countless others,” Blandino said. “I can’t think of another person who was as universally respected, and even more importantly loved, within the officiating community as Jim. He was a legend within the officiating community, but an even better person. I’ll miss him dearly.”
Matt Sumstine, a former WAC official and current NFL replay official, shared fond memories of Blackwood, and underscored Blackwood’s ability to mentor.
He tirelessly worked to provide a path for improvement. In our WAC days, he would put out a weekly training video and was quick to inform us that all of us would be on it before the season was over. It was his way of stating we are all equal, able to make mistakes, and learn from each other.
He hired me as a high school official straight to a Division I conference. He was confident in his ability as a talent scout and patient enough to provide a road map to excellence. He told me on more than one occasion, “It’s just a game,” not to minimize the value or desire to properly prepare, but to keep us grounded on the other aspects of our lives.
My ring tone for him is “The Godfather Waltz” and for good reason. When we were at clinics, he would find a chair in the lobby and light up the room with his laughter and drew in crowds with his knowledge.
I loved J.B. and he knew it. We talked regularly and before each conversation was over, he would ask me about my wife and daughter. I miss him as a supervisor, mentor, servant of the game, but mostly as my friend.
Carollo, who was a referee in the NFL the same time Blackwood was a replay official, also saw the impact he had on developing officials. “Jim was a selfless individual and his integrity was beyond reproach,” he said. “We will miss the officiating icon that Jim was but we will never forget the impact he has made on the thousands of officials he trained and mentored.”
He adds, “As an NCAA official, a Division I coordinator, an NFL replay official, our first ever CFO national replay director, and the recipient of the David Parry Award, he clearly has done it all. It is not an overstatement that Jim did it for the good of the game and never for himself.”
Terry McAulay, currently the NBC Sports football rules analyst, was the officiating coordinator for the Big East and American Athletic conferences. He said, “Jim was without a doubt one of the finest people I’ve ever met. He was a great football person and a truly great friend that touched so many lives in our business. We spoke often and I will miss him dearly.”
Raised in Paragould and North Little Rock, Ark., Blackwood graduated Ouachita Baptist University in 1961 with a degree in mathematics. He was a referee in the Southland Conference for 14 years before becoming the conference’s coordinator in 1989. In 1999, he became the officiating coordinator in the WAC, after Mike Pereira left that position to join the NFL. He also worked concurrently as an NFL replay official from 1999 to 2008. Jim also was the executive director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials from 1992 until 2001. The WAC withdrew from football after the 2011 season, and he joined the Pac-12 as its replay supervisor shortly after that. He was the national director of replay in the CFO from 2016 through 2017. He resided in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and is survived by his wife, Deanna.
Sumstine said that he will remember how Blackwood’s training went well beyond the field.
“He always told us to keep things in the proper order: faith, family and then football.”
Mark Schultz and Roger Goodgroves contributed to this report.
James Carl “Jim” Blackwood (1939-2021)
On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, James Blackwood, loving son, brother, husband, father and uncle passed away at the age of 81.
Jim was born to the late Marcus and Gertrude Blackwood on Dec. 7, 1939, in St. Louis. He spend most of his early years in Paragould, Ark., and later moved to North Little Rock. He began his career as Director of Weights and Measures Division for the State of Arkansas.
In 1972, he moved to Dallas where he worked for the City of Dallas in several different capacities before becoming Assistant Director, Health & Human Services Environmental Health Division. After leaving the City of Dallas, Jim became the Assistant Director of the Business and Professional Institute for Dallas County Community College District.
Jim’s love and passion for the game of football lead him to an officiating career that spanned more than 60 years. He began as an on-field official both in Arkansas and Texas. With over 25 years of experience officiating he began his first stop on this amazing career path as executive director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials. Following retirement from that position he became supervisor of football officials for the Southland Conference followed by supervisor of officials for the Western Athletic Conference, coordinator of replay officials for the Pac-12 Conference and finally as CFO national director of instant replay. Jim also worked for 10 years as a replay official for the NFL and 1 year as an ESPN booth referee. With his extensive knowledge of NCAA football rules, mechanics, and techniques, Jim helped develop replay manuals, training materials and videos.
He is preceded in death his parents, twin sister Janice, and nephew Kip.
Jim is survived by his wife of 23 years Dee, sons Mark Blackwood (wife Janie) and Jay Blackwood (wife Sonya), niece Julie Jackson Nichols, step-son Michael Atkins (wife Erika), niece-in-law Robin Jackson, and his first wife, GiGi Blackwood Givens.
A Celebration of Jim’s Life will be held at 11:00AM on Saturday, March 20, 2021, at the Park Christian Community Church in Mesquite.