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Big Ten referee John O’Neill retires, joins NFL as position coach

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Football Zebras as learned through multiple secondary sources, that long-time Big Ten college football referee, John O’Neill, has retired from on-field officiating, and has joined the NFL as a referee position coach.

Despite multiple requests, the NFL declined to confirm O’Neill’s new position with the league or confirm the other position coaches for 2022.

Former Big 12 referee, Mike Defee, was a position coach for the NFL. He is now officiating coordinator for Conference USA.

O’Neill joined the Big Ten in 2002. Over his career, he officiated high-profile games for the Big Ten, including several New Years Day bowl games and the 2014 College Football National Championship. He also officiated the 2021 socially-distant Rose Bowl, held in Texas due to covid-19.

He was referee for perhaps the most famous finish in Michigan State football history (sorry Michigan fans):

Off the field, the Chicago-area native works in marketing, sales and fundraising. No word yet on who will replace O’Neill as a full-time Big Ten referee.

We congratulate John O’Neill for his college football officiating accomplishments and wish him the best in his NFL role.

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Mark Schultz
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?"

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