NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent sent a letter Friday to all the officials on his staff. The letter became public from NFL Media reporter Judy Battista.
“This is just a note to express my gratitude and appreciation for your commitment to excellence as a game official,” the memo stated under the salutation “Game officials.”
The officiating department is under the football operations wing, and senior vice presidents of officiating Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell report directly to Vincent.
Vincent continued to praise the officiating staff on their judgment and acknowledged the difficulties with their profession. Quite often, the league gives the impression that the officials are replaceable cogs in the machinery of the NFL, none more notable when Vincent’s predecessor, Ray Anderson, made a tactical error that replacement officials would be suitable during the 2012 officiating lockout.
What prompted this memo — and the deliberate act to have a reporter on the NFL payroll publicly disseminate it — is a mystery. While there is no reason to question the sentiment in the memo is genuine, there was definitely an ulterior motive to make this a public statement as well.
The timing makes it seem there is a connection with an interview Fewell had during Monday Night Countdown on ESPN. Fewell discussed the unsportsmanlike conduct foul on Panthers receiver D.J. Moore, a costly penalty that many blame the Panthers loss on, especially with its direct correlation to the missed game-winning extra-point kick. It appears that Fewell was on ESPN to throw a lifeline to Moore who was being roasted by many and to explain to another faction that believed it was wrongly called.
While Fewell may have helped Moore, he threw his officials under the bus. He circuitously stated that Moore should not have been flagged, two of Moore’s teammates should have been, and “unfortunately at times game officials announce the wrong number when we have multiple violations.” Essentially, the co-leader of the officiating department in the public square portrayed officials to be incompetent on how the unsportsmanlike conduct rule was interpreted and bungling the numbers they announce.
Fewell, it should be noted, had no prior officiating or officiating-related experience prior to ascending to the head of the department. The last time the NFL did that was in 1964-68 when former 49ers assistant coach Mark Duncan took the reins a year after former Notre Dame coach Joe Kuharich ran officiating for one year before jumping to coach the Eagles. (Former Giants center Mel Hein headed the AFL officiating department for some time. Recently, Dean Blandino lead the department having not officiated on the field, but was a longtime staffer in the department and oversaw the replay operations when he was promoted.)
This may be the reason why Vincent was the one issuing the memo, because it is not a huge leap to think Fewell denigrated the officials, and Vincent needed to do damage control. He also needed to counterbalance the public record, although there is a wide gulf of prominence with Fewell on the pregame to Monday Night Football and Vincent in a Friday news dump after 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Whatever the impetus for the memo, the fact that Vincent did this in the first place is a monumental vote of confidence in officiating performance. It is recognition of their continuous and sustained level of excellence. While there are still issues with officiating that need to be addressed, it does not take away from the high performance level each one gives every single game and in the week leading up to the next one.