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Walt Anderson stepping down as senior VP of officiating

Anderson will move into another role in the department



Football Zebras exclusive

Walt Anderson is stepping down from his role as the NFL senior vice president of officiating according to five officiating sources with knowledge of the situation. One source stated that his departure takes effect May 1. Anderson will apparently remain in the officiating department overseeing replay operations, however there are indications that his exact role going forward is not finalized.

Update, April 18. Anderson will be a department liaison who will communicate with the TV networks on gamedays and with the teams during the week.

The league has just started the process of hiring a replacement for Anderson. Football Zebras has contacted the league for comment and has not yet received a response.

Anderson left the field at the end of the 2019 season after 24 years as an NFL official, including 17 at the referee position. He worked 2 Super Bowls, one as a referee and one as a line judge. Anderson was hired by the NFL as the senior vice president of officiating development as part of a triumvirate leadership under then-SVP of officiating Al Riveron and newly hired SVP of officiating administration Perry Fewell. In practice, the titles never matched their functions, as Riveron was pushed to replay and Anderson was the new head of officials. Riveron retired after the 2020 season, and returned a network liaison position until he was hired as supervisor of officials in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Anderson, 71, was not seen as a long-term leader of the department, which has seen five people as the primary officiating head since 2010. Standard-bearer Art McNally governed the officiating department from 1968 to 1990, and Jerry Seeman and Mike Pereira succeeded him for stints of 10 and 9 years, respectively. Since then, no one has remained the head of the department for more than 4 years.

It has been characterized in officiating circles as the job that no one wants.

The reason for the departure at this time seems to be related to the league’s pending hires of college officials. Multiple sources indicated that the officiating department’s top-ranked recruit last season was Big 12 referee Derek Anderson, Walt’s son. The announcement of the newly hired officials was delayed a day in 2023, and our sources state that was due to human resources disallowing Derek Anderson to report to his father and effectively removing him from the incoming class of officials.

The off-ramp into another role gives the officiating department the ability to hire Derek Anderson as an on-field official in the coming weeks. “That seems like a lock,” said one officiating source.

Because of these circumstances being very particular to Walt Anderson, this does not affect Fewell’s position in the league office, but our sources could not rule out any other reorganization efforts that would. At least one other executive in the officiating department is believed to have either left the department or changed his role.

Who takes over?

The NFL has just posted the job opening internally within the past day or two, and we are not aware of any person who is certain to be applying at this time. Knowing that Anderson would be stepping down sooner than later, the rumors of his eventual replacement have bounced around for at least the last two years. There are two candidates with impeccable credentials and a few Super Bowl rings to wear in a job interview.

Referee Bill Vinovich just came off what could be considered the best officiated Super Bowl to date, and it is the third one he presided over. Vinovich, 63, worked in the league office as an officiating supervisor and grader while he was on medical leave for five seasons. When he returned to the field in 2012, he earned a divisional playoff assignment and in the last 6 postseasons, he earned 5 top-tier assignments — either a Super Bowl or a conference championship game. Should Vinovich get the job, he would follow the path of Jerry Seeman, who worked a Super Bowl in his final game before moving into the league office.

Side judge Eugene Hall has tied a record with 3 Super Bowls in his first 9 seasons. Because an official can’t be assigned to the Super Bowl in their first four seasons nor in consecutive seasons, his record cannot be beaten. (Recently retired down judge Mark Hittner also accomplished this feat.) He is actually on the record as someone who would consider the job. In a Forbes profile about Hall’s job as an IRS investigator juxtaposed with his officiating job, it noted that Hall “owns up to bigger ambitions — like becoming a supervisor and ultimately a vice-president of officiating at the NFL.” If there is an ideal candidate who could finally provide leadership stability for more than a decade and beyond, the 46-year-old Hall seems to be it.

A strong candidate, and the possible frontrunner for Anderson’s position, is former umpire Garth DeFelice. Since retiring from the field in 2013 after a 16-year NFL career and a Super Bowl ring, he has been a regional supervisor and in charge of coaching the umpire position. DeFelice was instrumental in developing mechanics for roughing the passer by instructing umpires to momentarily break off their normal keys when contact to the quarterback was imminent. DeFelice was known on the field by players for his tough demeanor and low threshold for disrespect towards opponents or officials. DeFelice has been off the field for 10 years — Riveron was off the field for 4 years before ascending to SVP — so if he is hired at the age of 70, he is also not going to be a long-range leader of the department.

Referee Ron Torbert was a name that was mentioned by several sources in recent years, but word soon followed that he had no interest in taking the position. Another name that recently emerged was umpire Fred Bryan who switched to working the line of scrimmage last season, earning a wild card game assignment in the process. Other names that had been mentioned recently were referees Carl Cheffers (who also has had a recent run of 3 Super Bowls himself) and Clete Blakeman as outside possibilities. Bryan has worked 2 Super Bowls and Torbert and Blakeman one each.

A name has emerged from outside the usual list of candidates: current UFL officiating coordinator Steve Strimling. He has a unique skillset in that he also administered the officiating operations under a pro rules set of the AAF, USFL, and XFL in every season of their recent incarnations with the exception of 2023 when there were two leagues competing. He recently retired as referee in the Pac-12 and moved into the replay command center for the Big Ten Conference. Strimling is known very well to the NFL officiating operations, as the officials on his rosters have been hired by the NFL. One source says, despite his familiarity within officiating, Strimling is “off their radar” for the position, but wouldn’t rule him out.

Fewell, the current head of officiating administration, is not seen as a candidate for taking over responsibilities outside of administrative duties, dialogue with coaches, and training officials on coaching perspectives.

Dean Blandino, who had the job from 2013 to 2016 and left for a rules analyst position at Fox Sports, is also not considered a candidate for the position, despite having support from the general football fanbase. Blandino would also have to resign as national director of replay for the College Football Officiating organization, which further complicates any return to the NFL office.

Whoever gets the job, they will be starting two weeks prior to the end of the officials’ offseason and has a full plate of incomplete rules interpretations to hash out.

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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David

    April 18, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    Sarah Thomas! She’s young (51), articulate and would be tons of positive PR for the NFL.

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