The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced that 29 people are semifinalists for the 2023 Fall of Fame class in the coach/contributor category. Former referees Jim Tunney, Jerry Markbreit, and Jerry Seeman are on the list. Seeman also was the former head of officiating. Tunney and Seeman were also in consideration last year.
Before a dedicated contributors committee was formed, several officials, including Tunney, have made it to the semifinal round of balloting, but never got any further. After the new contributor candidate track was created in 2015, officials still did not get the final nomination. Last year, Art McNally, the father of modern officiating, finally broke through, becoming the first official enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After McNally’s enshrinement, the path for officials got considerably narrower. In a move to address a backlog of overlooked senior candidates — players who were retired in 1998 or earlier — the Hall of Fame trustees last year opened 3 annual slots for seniors and consolidated contributors and coaches into the same category with only 1 nominee per year. This revised procedure will be in effect this year’s and next year’s voting (for the subsequent years’ enshrinements). Not only do officials have an uphill climb to move ahead of owners, highly placed executives, and (recently getting attention) scouting professionals, but now they must also surmount the challenges to the candidacy from big name coaches.
The trustees are attempting to balance the dilution of the enshrinement honor and subsequently reversing longtime snubs. It is still struggling to find that balance, but has kept the funnel narrow, with the one-time exception of the 2020 centennial class. In the process, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has set itself apart from the other major sports halls of fame for its staggeringly low number of officiating members.
The combined contributor/coach committee named its top 25 candidates (with ties this year, 29), which will be winnowed down to 12 candidates by the end of this week. Tunney, Markbreit, and Seeman are in consideration for the single nomination with 6 owners or family members, 8 head coaches, 2 assistant coaches, 5 scouts or player personnel professionals, 3 executives, a television pioneer, and the head of the Elias Sports Bureau.
The deck is really stacked against the officials for the next two years at least.