NFL Internet Network
    Go to another NFL Site AFC
   Go to an AFC Team Site NFC
    Go to an NFC Team Site
NFL High School Logo

Click Here for more information on Play Safe, Coaching Academy, Junior Player Development and the Youth Football Summit

  Print Article

Recipe for Success

Master chefs search for culinary combinations that tantalize the taste buds. Like Great Grandma's secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies, refereeing "recipes,' designed to enhance officials' work, are passed down through generations. With the help of 10 contributing 'chefs,' here is one sure-fire recipe for success. Its ingredients: A dash of philosophy, a pinch of common sense and a sprinkle of communication.

The late J. Dallas Shirley was a 33-year basketball official from Reston, Va. He supervised Southern Conference men's basketball and football officials. Considered to be among the "Master Chefs" basketball officiating, Shirley in 1980 was enshrined as an official in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. During his two decades as a supervisor, Shirley offered a buffet of reminder cards to interested officials. Each card, about three-by-five inches in size, contains a helpful hint that allows officials to mentally prepare for upcoming games.

Though specifically designed for basketball, his philosophies can be applied to any sport. Here is a list of J. Dallas Shirley's "ingredients," some edited for publication. The material following each item was added by author Bill Topp, who included comments from well-known officials.

Your voice can be a positive tool that helps you control a game or it can be a dagger used to knife a perceived opponent. Appropriate and timely communication is paramount to game control.

Verbal skills are exercised by all officials in all sports. One tough spot: baseball's dugouts. Throughout the course of a game, an umpire likely will hear people complaining from the dugouts, sometimes far away from home plate. Handling those people calmly yet firmly requires preparation.

Jon Bible, former national coordinator of the NCAA Umpiring Improvement Program, tries to calm. things from home plate and avoids marching over to the dugout unless absolutely necessary. Said Bible: "Does that mean you have to sit there and be cussed out? No. Does that mean you've got to be shown up? No. But it does mean you don't want to appear as the aggressor. ... Say things like, 'Hey, I've heard enough.'.. - When you provoke people, they tend to fire back. That's what you want to avoid."

Officiating youth games can really test one's self-control. Often times the fans and even the coaches do not understand the rules. Let's face it ... everyone is an "expert" on the game because they watch it on television. They may think they know the rules because they saw a certain play recently on television or at a major league ballpark, but chances are your youth league does not play by the same set of game rules as the professional, college or even high school programs.

It's easy for the fans to make accusations about your ability or knowledge. If you fire-back some "cute" comment or even worse - get down to their level of personal accusations, you're in big trouble!

Follow the simple gospel that all good officials preach: Ignore the fans. Exercise your communication skills need with the players, coaches and fellow officials. If the crowd becomes unruly and disrupts the game, call upon the coach to control his parents or ask the league administrator to get involved, but never confront a fan.

Realize that often coaches are simply venting their frustrations when confronting you, usually ending their discussions quickly.

If a basketball coach says, "He's camping in the lane," what's more effective, ignoring the statement or saying to the coach, "No way; he's been fine all night"? Most of the time, ignoring a harmless statement or acknowledging it with a simple head nod ends the matter. But when you defend your position, the coach instinctively feels defensive, then goes on the offensive, continuing the debate. Being "worked" by coaches is as much a part of officiating as making judgment calls. To a point, let them talk, but don't let them influence you by intimidation.

Rookies and veterans alike are often guilty of the "yeah, but" syndrome. When another official or a supervisor questions your mechanics or your judgment and your first utterance is, "Yeah, but," you're usually not listening. Grandma used to say, with rolling pin in hand: "Be quiet and listen. That's why you've got two ears and only one mouth." Moral of the story: You'll learn more by listening than by talking.

There is a strong correlation between your appearance and whether you're accepted as an official. Height, weight, cleanliness and body language all play roles. If you don't look like you belong on the field or court, you are likely to have more problems than an official who looks the part.

NFL referee Johnny Grier occasionally watches college football officials and reports back to a conference what he observed. One of his focal points is appearance. Said Grier: "I look at the way the guy moves on the field and appearance means a lot: The way a guy throws his flag, the way he reacts when a coach is breathing down his neck, those types of things (are important)."

All eyes must be on every play. Eye contact is an important part of communicating with your partners, yet there are countless horror stories where eye contact didn't occur, resulting in wrong calls. Ever see one basketball official signal a "block" while another tries to sell a "charge"?

Red Cashion, a retired NFL referee, offers a definitive example of the importance of eye contact: "A few years ago (in Detroit), right at the end of the half there was a play in the end zone in which there was a question whether (the pass was caught). We ruled it incomplete. As we were sitting in the dressing room at halftime, I turned to the umpire and said, 'Great call at the end of the half on the incompletion.' He said, 'I didn't have an incompletion.' I said, 'I thought I saw your signal.' He said, J was just showing what the back judge had because he was waving incomplete.' The back judge said, J wasn't waving incomplete; I was blocked out.'

"I said, 'Well, out of curiosity, who had it?' It turned out nobody had it, nobody called it. The supervisor came down and said, "We looked at the play real close and you made a good call: He trapped it.' We were lucky to get by with that, but the communication wasn't there. As a result, the next week we spent a lot of time talking about communication. The fact that nobody saw that play knocked us dow peg."

Even with the many TV replays and various camera angles, television cannot always get the most advantageous angle to see each play. Think the center-field camera peering in to home plate gives you a good look at the strike zone? Though it appears it does, the camera is generally located 30-50 feet to the third-base side of home plate and 20-30 feet above the ground. Angles are critical. Tony Thompson, a baseball umpire as well as baseball umpires' supervisor for the Southern, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Southern conferences, talked about a play at the plate when he got the correct angle to get the play right.

Explained Thompson: "It was during a game between Mississippi and Mississippi State that was televised on ESPN. A ball was hit down the left field line and the three umpires all rotated coverage. I was working first base but ended up covering the plate. The throw beat the runner there by a good five feet and there was a collision. I looked down ready to bang him out when I saw the catcher stick his hand under his chest protector to get the ball, which nobody else could see. I called the runner safe. When I got home and looked at the game (on tape), that play was shown from three angles. Finally, the third angle showed the ball under the catcher's protector."

No matter what level or sport you officiate, sooner or later you'll be on the proverbial "hot seat" facing an infuriated coach or player. One well-publicized series of incidents involved then-Big Ten football referee Jerry Markbreit and Ohio State's volatile coach Woody Hayes. On Nov. 20,1971, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Markbreit, in his seventh season as a Big Ten official, and Hayes shared billing in what the official called "one of the most bizarre (incidents) in college football history."

With 1:25 left to play and Rose Bowl-bound Michigan ahead 10-7, Ohio State quarterback Donald Lamka threw an accurate pass toward receiver Dick Wakefield, who was on Middgan's 35. At the last second, Wolverines' safety Thom Darden leaped over Wakefield to intercept the pass. Markbreit moved to his new position downfield, signaled a Michigan first down, then turned and was face-to-face with an angry Hayes, who felt Darden should have been flagged for pass interference. Markbreit's flag flew from his pocket: Fifteen yards, unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Hayes went crazy," recalled Markbreit. "He stormed up behind me and yelled: 'You little pip-squeak! You're not gonna walk 15 yards on me! You're gonna reverse that call and we're goin' back and they're gonna get 15 for interference!' I said, "Please leave the field, coach.' He said: 'No, dammit! I'm staying here until you make the right call!' I'd never seen a coach so angry or out of control."

After the penalty was marked off, Markbreit continued to be verbally harassed by Hayes and was unsuccessful trying to reason with the irate coach. Markbreit recalled that Hayes "yelled and threatened and called me every epithet an official has ever been called in the history of football. ... I never raised my voice or argued. I kept thinking: 'Keep your cool, Jerry. ... Don't get mad, don't use vulgarity, don't say anything that'll come back to haunt you.'"

A few moments later, Hayes, who died in 1987, had yet another tirade, this time tearing apart the down markers and hurling them onto the field. Through it all, Markbreit kept his cool, which went a long way toward helping the game conclude without further incident.

. Obviously, such behavior at a youth event is not only unacceptable but intolerable. There is no place in youth sports for coaches using vulgarity or destroying property for the sake of "making a point" with an official. If a game situation becomes so volatile, don't be afraid to stop the game until calm is restored; if it can't, stop the contest entirely.

Hustling is working hard to get into proper position and handling penalty assessment with dispatch. Rushing is overhustling, outrunning plays for the sake of breaking a sweat or showing off. Being correct becomes secondary to how you look to others. Your games will flow better if you hustle, but never rush.

Still, you must realize that no matter what you do, some games will be as smooth as new sandpaper. Don't let that deter you from working hard to do the job.

See the whole play from beginning to end. A near-triple play in the 1992 World Series accentuates that point. In Game Three between Toronto and Atlanta, NL umpire Bob Davidson was working second base. With no outs in the top of the fourth inning, Atlanta had Deion Sanders on second base and Terry Pendleton on first as Dave justice hit a fly ball to right-center field. Toronto center fielder Devon White made a spectacular catch, immediately throwing the ball back to the infield.

Sanders, tagging at second, was passed by Pendleton, who was called out. In the ensuing confusion, Sanders was caught in a rundown between second and third. Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber ran toward Sanders instead of throwing to second baseman Manuel Lee. Gruber then dove for Sanders to attempt a tag. Davidson ruled Sanders safe, evoking an argument.

Davidson said that "when the play happened, I thought I was 100 percent right." Later, when he saw a photo of the play, Davidson said reporters "could surmise I was wrong." Davidson couldn't see a tag, but he knows what went wrong: He didn't see the whole play. "When Gruber was chasing Sanders, I was thinking: 'He's got to make the throw. He'll never catch Sanders.'

"I broke one of the first rules they teach at umpire school: Don't take your eyes off the ball. My eyes went to Manny Lee, who was at second base. I looked at Lee just as Gruber dove. When I looked back, it appeared to me as though the glove was between the runner's feet. I called Sanders safe. Gruber jumped up right away and said, 'I tagged him.' I said, 'No you didn't.'

Referee's 5/93 feature, "Things Happen," highlighted an incident that underscores why officials need to be "alive" at all times. With 15:20 left in a Big Ten Conference men's basketball game between Northwestern and Wisconsin, officials Art McDonald, Mike Sanzere and Ed Hightower quelled a potentially ugly brawl by reacting quickly to a violent foul.

Northwestern's Cedric Neloms flagrantly elbowed Wisconsin's Andy Kilbride, who responded with a punch as players grabbed one another. The officials and the coaching staffs reacted quickly, separating the combatants. What could have resembled a barroom brawl was squelched. The officials doled out the appropriate fouls, ejected the fighters and moved on with the game.

Sanzere, then a major college official for 14 years and still a prominent member of several major college staffs, explained what happened: "I heard the whistle and saw Artie (McDonald) had the intentional-elbow foul and I came running in toward the players. Unfortunately, we couldn't get between them before they started fighting. My first thought was to try to get the players calmed down."

After the game, both head coaches complimented the officials. Said Wisconsin coach Stu Jackson: "'They (officials) handled it very professionally and did the best they could."' Added Northwestern's Bill Foster: "I thought they handled it pretty well."

In the NFL, being "pleasant" is so important to director of officiating Jerry Seeman that courtesy is virtually league mandated. Said Seeman: I tell my people I want things put in cruise control and that's the way we'll operate. There may be players or coaches who get excited, but there better be seven people on that field who are always going to be the same. I want that atmosphere and I want us to be pleasant."

Prep basketball referee Tom Cline learned that valuable lesson Feb. 18,1982, during a league championship game. The incident was detailed in Referee's 11/89 feature, "Nightmare: I Had Made a Terrible Mistake."

Cline, then a 25-year veteran living in Williamsport, Pa., was the trail official responsible for a last-second shot attempt. With 20 seconds left and visiting Loyalsock High School leading 40-39, Montoursville High School inbounded the ball for a game-ending challenge. The game clock was positioned on the wall behind Cline. With about 10 seconds to go, an outside shot was missed, but Montoursville got the rebound and from the paint attempted two more shots, the last one a tap that dropped through the cords. With the frantic crowd screaming, Cline was unable to hear the final horn.

After the ball went through, a swarm of fans poured from the stands onto the floor between Cline and his partner, Dick Hort, who was positioned along the baseline facing the clock. Cline was unsure about scoring the goal.

When Cline finally reached the scorer's table, he conferred with the league-assigned timer, asking what he saw. The timer said, "Tommy, I don't think the ball was tapped before the horn went off." With that, Cline said: "OK, the goal doesn't count. Loyalsock wins it." As he and Hort left the floor, they were cascaded with boos and epithets. When the dressing room door closed, Hort said: "Tom, if you had asked me for help, I'd have told you the goal was good. I saw that ball in the air after the tap and at the very same time I saw (one second) on the clock. I was looking directly at it." Said Cline: "I had made a terrible mistake."

Cline, feeling a sense of urgency to get it right, went back out onto the floor and told the scorer that an error had been made. Cline then reversed his call, granting Montoursville an apparent victory. Loyalsock later moved that game into the win column after successfully appealing Cline's decision to change his original judgment. By rule, Loyalsock was correct: Once the officials leave the court, their jurisdiction ends.

A day later talking to a local radio announcer, Cline said, "I made a terrible mistake. I should have conferred with my partner and I didn't." Added Cline: "I was certainly humbled by the experience. It was like sitting naked in a department store window during the Christmas rush. What about the kids who played that game? Some of them had been deprived, by my actions, of one of life's little treasures. I am sorry for that. But today, I realize that I can make a mistake and not feel guilty about it for the rest of my life, and I can hope that one of life's many lessons was in it for the kids as well."

In many officials" minds, guts and Terry Cooney are synonymous. Cooney, then an AL umpire, was working behind the plate for Game Four of the 1990 AL Championship Series between Boston and Oakland. From the mound, Boston pitching ace Roger Clemens allegedly directed obscenities at Cooney, a charge Clemens denied despite replays that attested to his vulgar language. For his profanity, Clemens was ejected by Cooney. Later, commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Clemens for five games of the '91 season.

The notorious incident lead to a nationwide debate about the role of umpires and whether superstars are or should be given preferential treatment during "big" games. Cooney's display of guts and character were commendable. Referee received many letters concerning the incident; nearly all writers sided with Cooney. Wrote Mark Schumacher, Erie, Pa.: "With one wave of his right hand, umpire Terry Cooney did more to benefit baseball umpires than anyone before Richie Phillips (general counsel, Major League Umpires' Assn.). ... Umpires everywhere would be well advised to follow Cooney's courageous example." Noted Jerry Sheehan, from Detroit: "When a pitcher starts jawboning, the umpire has to do what Cooney did to Clemens."

Said Cooney, who retired from the AL after the 1991 season: "Wherever I go people want to know about (the Clemens' incident). Although I've tried my whole career to keep a low profile, I have been thrust into a higher profile than what I would normally like. I feel I handled (the incident) 100 percent correct and I wouldn't do anything different at all."

Blending the ingredients offered in this story will enhance your chances of becoming a "master chef" in any sport. For best results, refer often to the recipe.

-Adapted from an original work by Bill Topp, Referee senior associate editor

  Print Article

Existing Users
Remember Me Personalize Your News.  What's This?
Playbook Video

Steve McNair
Back in the Day

Segment originally aired on September 16, 2005.

300k .rm file
Download Player

More Videos >>

Players Journals

Here are the latest players to update their journals:

Matt Light, New England Patriots
Staying Busy

Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Foundation Work With Foster Teens

Kevin Mawae, Tennessee Titans
April 2007

Get more from

Online Survey
Who will be the first player selected in the 2007 NFL Draft?

Calvin Johnson
Brady Quinn
JaMarcus Russell
Joe Thomas

Survey Image
Go to Learn about the Youth Football Fund Go to Go to

© Copyright 1999-2007, the National Football League. All rights reserved.

Terms and Conditions | Contact NFLHS | Privacy Policy