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NFL has recovered from their perfect storm of referee departures

The NFL referee prospect bench is deep, after a high rate of turnover in the last five years.



A perfect storm for the NFL began in 2018 when almost every network sports executive decided they needed a rules analyst for their broadcast. Mike Pereira’s performance on Fox since 2010 had been a boon for the network and its NFL coverage.

This led CBS, NBC, and ESPN to take notice. These networks targeted experienced, NFL officials for their rules analyst positions and the officiating position best suited for verbally explaining rulings and plays is the on-field referee. Over the years, referees Mike Carey, John Parry, Gene Steratore, and Terry McAulay surprised the NFL and left for the broadcast booth, which required the NFL to backfill these referee positions from their development pipeline. Other natural retirements during this period — like Tony Corrente, Ed Hochuli, Walt Coleman, and Pete Morelli — required even more new referees to be promoted, draining the pipeline even further.

Thankfully, this exodus of referees was hopefully a one-time event. Since 2021, the NFL has worked hard to bolster its referee development pipeline, and the roster of potential referees-in-waiting is now deeper than ever. The NFL now has seven potential referees.

Don Willard

Willard completed his fifth season in the NFL, all at side judge. He wears number 58. Willard has worked three playoff games – one wild card and two divisional playoff games. Before working in the pros, Willard was a Big 10 side judge and referee, including post-season assignments at both positions.

In 2022, Willard worked on rookie referee Tra Blake’s crew and was a substitute referee in the preseason.

Jonah Monroe

Monroe just completed his eighth season in the NFL. This past year and for the past several seasons he worked on Jerome Boger’s crew. He wears uniform 120. He’s been assigned to five playoff games — two wild card games, two divisional games, and the 2021 AFC Championship Game.

He was an alternate in Super Bowl LVI.

Prior to the NFL, Monroe worked in the American Athletic Conference (and predecessor the Big East) mostly as a deep wing, but worked some non-conference games as a referee. He also auditioned for referee in 2019.

Duane Heydt

Heydt just completed his rookie year as a NFL umpire. He wears number 42. Heydt has worked in the USFL and as a referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Perhaps his biggest game as a referee was the 2021 College Football Playoff national championship game (with a tight replay review) — his last college game before going to the pros.

In 2022 he worked on Brad Allen’s crew.

Brandon Cruse

Brandon Cruse just finished his rookie campaign in the NFL, wearing number 22. He served on Carl Cheffers’ crew. Cruse has several years of referee experience going for him, having officiated in the Mountain West and Big 12 conferences as a referee, plus being a referee in the AAF and XFL.

In college, Cruse worked several high-profile bowl games including the 2019 Rose Bowl, the National Championship in January 2021, and the 2021 Big 12 Title Game.

Alex Moore

Alex Moore finished his rookie NFL season as an umpire wearing uniform number 49. He worked in the SEC as a side judge and referee. Perhaps his biggest SEC assignment was the 2021 Iron Bowl between hated rivals Alabama and Auburn.

Moore has also been a referee in the USFL.

Scott Campbell

Campbell has been hired as an umpire for the 2023 season. He is a veteran referee, having worked in the Big 12 for several years. In college, he has worked as an umpire, center judge, and referee. Campbell has worked several New Years Day bowl games at those three positions. He also worked the 2021 Orange Bowl College Football Playoff.

James Carter

Carter was hired as a NFL umpire for the 2023 season. He comes to the NFL from the Southeastern Conference, where he’s officiated since 2010. In addition to officiating in the USFL, Carter has worked in the AAF. Carter has worked several high-profile conference championships and bowl games.

These officials and their continued development and training are critical to the NFL, especially when officiating is under increased scrutiny. A simple numbers game indicates that not every one of these officials will ascend to the position of referee. But, their presence provides insurance for the NFL in case another batch of surprise referee retirements occurs.

(Mark Schultz contributed to this report)

Chris currently resides in Michigan and has been a sports official for over 30 years. By day, he works in research in the automotive industry. By night, when he isn't watching his kids play sports, he officiates high school football, softball, and basketball while nerding out on all things related to officiating.