Dean Blandino was hated by fans, hammered by coaches and challenged by the media.
And guess what?
Whoever replaces Blandino atop the NFL's officiating department will face the same throng of angry, insatiable protests to game decisions and rule interpretations on a weekly basis. As scrutiny of officiating intensifies around all sports, at a time when objective decisions must be made about subjective events, there is no way to make everyone happy.
The NFL told its teams Friday morning that Blandino will leave his post in May, heading for what ESPN's Adam Schefter reported was a broadcasting job. A search is underway for his replacement, but the timing of Blandino's departure is unusual. He leaves behind an operation that is in flux on multiple levels and might need to be reorganized in his absence.
Let's look further into the importance and impact of this news.
What are you so worked up about? The game is about players and coaches, not officials.
You would be surprised at how often postgame reaction, both inside and outside the league, centers on how a game is called. The head of officiating must manage the complaints, explain decisions to people who often don't know the rules and maintain a consistent course for the department.
As a result, Blandino was arguably the NFL's most visible executive during the season other than commissioner Roger Goodell. On one level, Blandino's job was to argue, convince and ensure that NFL games were being administered fairly -- if imperfectly -- and without favoritism toward any teams or players.
If the job is that important, why is he leaving?
That's a good question, one that only Blandino can fully answer. He is 45 and, like Goodell, an NFL lifer. He joined the league as an intern in 1994, left briefly in 2009 and assumed his current role in 2013.
Blandino's strong television presence has prompted longstanding rumors that he would one day seek a broadcasting job, much like predecessor and current Fox analyst Mike Pereira. He also has two young sons, and there is no doubt that his new job will be less stressful and provide more family time than his old one. But his presence at the NFL owners meetings last month suggested he would return for 2017, and he unquestionably had a long future ahead of him with the league if he wanted it.
Yep. During the past four years, the job has been expanded and tailored toward his skill set. In addition to his extensive public platform, one that gave him an opportunity to address calls and minimize controversies in real time, owners last month turned over all in-game replay decisions to the centralized command center that Blandino has built over the past three years.
As it stood at the time, the plan was for Blandino and his staff to make the final decision on all reviews. Referees would follow along on video tablets and participate in the discussion via wireless headsets.
What do you mean by "as it stood at the time?"
The proposal was very Blandino-centric, and it's fair to wonder if the NFL can or should follow through with it for 2017 without him.
Blandino's background with the league was almost exclusively within the replay system, having served as a replay official for four years and the director of the program for six. He conceived and designed the league office's command center and worked to modernize technology every season.
That made Blandino uniquely positioned to make the decisions quickly and accurately, a process he has honed in three years of advising referees via their headsets. A member of the NFL's competition committee told ESPN's Ed Werder that he agreed to transfer replay authority largely based on Blandino's presence and expertise, more than a general philosophical change to shift responsibility.
So will Blandino's replacement have the same role in replay?
Until we hear otherwise, yes. But the NFL should give strong consideration to tabling the initiative as it works through this transition. It might not be as easy as it sounds to find someone who can do the job without the training Blandino had.
It's also worth considering whether Blandino's job responsibilities should be spread out among multiple people.
Come on. Is it really that hard?
Final say on replay decisions requires undivided attention all day Sunday, and then on Monday nights and on Thursday nights. In addition to that and his extensive television/radio appearances, Blandino also was managing a roster of 122 officials, handling direct communication with coaches and general managers from every team and working closely with the competition committee to develop and hone future changes.
So what do you propose, smart guy?
Ultimately, it might make sense to have a separate replay chief to handle that aspect of the job. That person would need the experience and credibility to make important in-game decisions; perhaps a former referee. But as sports officiating around the world continues to gravitate toward technology, this role -- call it a Replay Czar -- will only grow in breadth, stature and importance.
Then what would the officiating chief do?
That person would handle the rest of the job, including a looming initiative to phase in a full-time program for referees. Earlier this spring, the competition committee decided to move forward with a plan that would require referees to accept full-time status by the end of the decade. The plan will doubtlessly create some turnover among those who opt out, and the league could have a significant personnel restructuring on its hands. That in itself is plenty for the officiating chief to work on. There is plenty of support within the officiating community for that job to go to Al Riveron, who is currently Blandino's top deputy.
What about the public platform? Was Blandino overexposed?
In some cases, a midweek television appearance extended a controversy that would otherwise have fizzled. But trust me on this. I covered the NFL way back in the 2000's, when as a matter of policy the league offered absolutely no explanation or context for officiating decisions. It was frustrating for fans and media alike.
More information is always preferable than less, as long as it is reliable. I found Blandino's public explanations to be honest and fact-based. Emotions have a way of clouding league-based analysis, but I hope the NFL hires someone who has the skills to explain nuanced events as plainly as Blandino did. It would be tough to go back to the dark ages of guesses and assumptions.