NFL hires Sarah Thomas, who becomes 1st female full-time official

The NFL has its first female full-time game official.

Sarah Thomas, who has worked exhibition games, will be a line judge for the 2015 season, the league announced Wednesday. She was one of nine new officials hired Wednesday, including Walt Coleman IV, the son of Walt Coleman, who will enter his 27th season as an NFL official in 2015, when they will become the third father-son duo, joining Ed and Shawn Hochuli, and Steve and Brad Freeman. Coleman IV will be a side judge.

The other first-year officials are: Kevin Codey (line judge), Hugo Cruz (side judge), Bart Longson (head linesman), Clay Martin (umpire), Aaron Santi (side judge), Shawn Smith (field judge) and Jabir Walker (side judge).

"Our incoming officials have all demonstrated that they are among the best in college football," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said in a statement. "We are excited about having them join us."

Blandino admitted that the league has been replacing officials at a more aggressive pace in recent years.

"I think that's a combination of things," Blandino said in a conference call. "There have been some that have retired and some that we've moved on from. We take it very seriously. We want the best officials. We do a comprehensive review. If the official isn't performing up to the standard, then they won't be in the National Football League. There are many qualified people out there. The pressure is immense."

The 41-year-old Thomas was in the league's officiating development program in 2013 and '14 and worked some team minicamps last year.

Thomas received an endorsement from Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Wednesday.

"We had her in the preseason last year. She did a good job. She might be one of the better ones we've had. So, it's about time," he said.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Thomas said she expects to still wear her hair tucked inside her cap. She started doing it on a suggestion that it would keep her from sticking out, though these days it's more about habit than an attempt to blend in.

"I think my hair's the least of my concerns,'' Thomas said, laughing. "I know that I will probably stand out being the first,'' she added, "but as far as players and coaches, I've been around a good little while, and I think they know who I am and just want to make sure I can do my job.''

She's already broken ground in the officiating field as the first woman to work college games in 2007. She was the first female official on the FBS level and the first to officiate a bowl game, the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

"I am a female, but I don't look at myself as just a female," Thomas said last June while working a Cleveland Browns minicamp. "I look at myself as an official."

Shannon Eastin worked regular-season NFL games in 2012 as a replacement official, making her the first female to do so in any capacity. She also was a line judge.

Thomas, a former college basketball player, was inspired to become an official in the 1990s when she attended a meeting with her brother, Lea. In 1996, Thomas became the first female to officiate in a Division 1-A high school football game in Mississippi.

Just under a decade later, she began officiating college games when she was hired by Conference USA, working as a line judge and head linesman. She also has worked the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Medal of Honor Bowl and the Conference USA Championship game in 2010 and 2014.

Thomas officiated two seasons in the United Football League, which is now out of business.

She said she hadn't experienced any problems with coaches or players.

"Everyone has been very professional and looked at me as another official,'' Thomas said.

Off the field, she's a pharmaceutical representative. She said last June her two sons and one daughter see nothing extraordinary about her football job.

"They just know mom officiates and it's nothing foreign to them or pioneering or anything," she said. "I do this."

Information from ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert and The Associated Press contributed to this report.