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Report: Anderson regime was full of discord and micromanagement

“Micromanaging” and “sarcastic” are terms used to describe former officiating boss Walt Anderson.

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The NFL officiating department has a new look in management after a near-total reorganization in the offseason. Senior vice-president of officiating Walt Anderson was reassigned to allow his son to be hired as an on-field official. There was additional motivation to move Anderson out, as a report in The Athletic by Kalyn Kahler details crumbling leadership and low morale. During Anderson’s three-year tenure, there have been rumblings of widespread discontent among officials being micromanaged, and Kahler brings these issues to the surface.

Covid (and maybe interoffice politics?) causes a vacuum

Anderson took over right as the covid-19 pandemic began. He originally came aboard to work with Al Riveron, who was senior vice president of officiating at the time. Also joining the department at that time was former defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who also took a senior vice president title. Rather than Riveron and Anderson (as former officials) co-managing the department, Riveron was quickly marginalized to replay operations and Anderson took more control of officiating aspects. A year later, Riveron abruptly retired hours before the 2021 preseason and Russell Yurk, the vice president of replay at the time, took a leave of absence from his position. Anderson took over centralized replay decisions.

A ‘micromanaging’ and ‘sarcastic’ officiating boss

If a boss has to make tough, sometimes uncomfortable, decisions, they will not be universally liked. Even successful officiating bosses like Art McNally, Jerry Seeman and Mike Pereira did not receive 100% approval ratings from their employees.

But, the comments about Anderson’s management style in The Athletic article cause concern.

The NFL has a staff of former officials who grade each game and assign grades to each official. The final grades come out the Wednesday after the game. Occasionally, a group decision might be necessary for a call, which could then involve the head of the department making the final judgment. However, Anderson took each grader’s report and signed off on it, or amended the final grades. With so many games to grade, some officials told Kahler they weren’t getting their final grades until the following Saturday — as they were getting ready to call their next game.

Anderson’s input often didn’t match the initial review other graders had finished by Wednesday, which confused some officials, particularly those without a lot of NFL experience. The changes could also be confusing for the department’s graders and trainers. “The quality of their training is hampered,” one former official said. “You can do all this work and then it gets overridden by someone at the top. When a trainer says one thing to you on Tuesday and then you’re graded another way later in the week, that is conflicting messages that undermine the whole training.”

While one could make a plausible point that having Anderson personally critique all games and grades provided consistency, the officials said his critiques were not helpful.

Anderson’s meticulous philosophy impacted morale. Former line judge Tom Symonette said crews went from receiving around four to five downgrades per game before Anderson to 15-20 downgrades per game with him. One former official said Anderson referenced video frames and used a stopwatch when evaluating decisions. Several former officials said his comments were harshly worded and at times, sarcastic, even for top-graded officials who’d qualified for playoff assignments. “After about Week 4 or 5, I stopped reading them because they just made morale really bad,” said one former official with multiple playoff assignments.

Let that last quote sink in. The officiating boss’s critique was so off-putting that the officials, who were supposed to take guidance and direction from the boss, didn’t even bother to read said critique.

Move with Purpose mechanics are over

In his first year on the job, Anderson implemented “Move With Purpose” mechanics. The philosophy behind the mechanics is for the official to stay as still as possible to get the best look at the play. We broke down these mechanics extensively and stated our concerns with the mechanic. As The Athletic reports, these new mechanics got in the way of officiating a play properly.

“I was having to remind myself, OK, don’t move,” one veteran official said. “I was thinking about mechanics as opposed to watching the play.” Another former official said his grader told him he was in the top three for correct calls at his position, but he kept getting downgraded because he couldn’t reprogram his muscle memory. “Doesn’t it matter that you get it right on the field?” he said he asked his grader. “And he told me, ‘Well, apparently not anymore.’”

Officials attending the June NFL officiating clinic received word that they would return to the more traditional mechanics and the Move With Purpose era was over.

Stability needed

There have been five officiating bosses in the last 10 years. We touched on that instability when Ramon George became the new vice president of officiating. Officials acknowledged to Kahler that the turnover was detrimental to the officiating department.

The officiating management team of Perry Fewell, George Stewart, Mark Butterworth and Ramon George need clean up the toxic aftermath of the prior administration and set a new course. They need to set a clear vision for the officiating staff, work with staff to come up with the best mechanics for the pro game, and give timely and constructive feedback so officials can grow and become excellent in their craft.

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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    June 12, 2024 at 3:43 pm

    As a former member of the media, I had a mediocre experience with Mr. Anderson when he was in charge of the Big 12. At the 2009 championship game between Nebraska and Texas, there was some end of game drama with time put back on the clock (the crew got the call correct). But Anderson, in a postgame press conference, was ill-equipped to succinctly explain the rationale behind the correction – leading Nebraska media to be outraged! We all have our shortcomings, and just because someone is a great white hat, does not mean they will make a great manager.

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