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Is the NFL preparing for an officiating leadership shakeup?

There is a widespread belief that the NFL is preparing to shake up the officiating leadership this offseason. Officiating, in general, has been struggling in various ways in recent seasons, and it appears the league is prepared to make some moves in the front office.

Several sources have indicated that Walt Anderson will be moving out of the leadership role in the officiating department prior to 2023 season. Those same sources also say the plan is an official from the field would be moved to the front office to shadow Anderson for the 2022 season in a transitionary role.

Anderson, 69, was not considered to be a long-term occupant as senior vice president of officiating because of his age. In fact, he took a slightly circuitous route to heading the officiating department in the first place.

Anderson was promoted to the front office after finishing the 2019 season as a referee. The position he applied for was a training and development role that was created under an agreement the NFL made with the officiating union. The NFL Referees Association insisted that the new position was at least the vice president level, and would assist new officials through their “budding phase” over their first few seasons. Anderson was moved to the front office with former assistant coach Perry Fewell, who would oversee the administrative functions of the department. Both had the title of senior vice president, as did Al Riveron, the head of the department prior to their hiring. Riveron was marginalized to replay functions, and Fewell had no officiating experience, so Anderson assumed the mantle of nearly all on-field officiating matters. Training and development remained a part of his title nominally, but not in priority. Riveron retired prior to the 2021 season and the vice president of replay took a leave of absence, so Anderson was now assuming replay functions as well.

The fact that Anderson’s reported replacement would spend a year in the front office with him indicates that Anderson is accepting this off-ramp of responsibilities. It is not clear if Anderson would stay to focus on the training and development area that he was hired to do.

It also shows there is a continuing instability in the head of officiating. As the Pro Football Hall of Fame has now elected Art McNally, the head of officiating for 23 seasons, his successors haven’t even come close to equaling his tenure. He was followed by Jerry Seeman (10 seasons), Mike Pereira (9), Carl Johnson (3), Dean Blandino (4), Riveron (4), and the co-leadership of Anderson and Fewell.

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Ben Austro
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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