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Sports >  NCAA football

Hotline exclusive: Head of Pac-12 officiating has never been a Power Five official (and that’s just the start)

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 4, 2020

Washington State Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew (16) runs the ball against USC during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 21, 2018, at LA Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. USC won the game 39-36.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew (16) runs the ball against USC during the second half of a college football game on Friday, September 21, 2018, at LA Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. USC won the game 39-36. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

In the two years since an instant replay-review controversy engulfed the Pac-12, plenty has changed within the officiating program.

At the behest of the athletic directors, the conference office hired an outside firm to conduct a six-month review.

On-field and replay officials have left the conference, while others have joined the program.

Woodie Dixon, the former administrator who infamously influenced the replay process in the USC-Washington State game in 2018, is no longer in the conference.

There is more transparency to the process, and a new instant replay manual has been created.

But at least two things have not changed:

The egregious mistakes that dominate social media and detract from the product; and the man in charge of day-to-day operations of the officiating program: David Coleman, a well-liked former Army officer whose experience as a Football Bowl Subdivision official is limited.

Coleman reports to Merton Hanks, who was hired in August to oversee all aspects of Pac-12 football. But the primary responsibility for recruiting, training, teaching, managing and evaluating Pac-12 officials falls to Coleman.

Hanks expressed “complete confidence” in Coleman in a statement to the Hotline.

But after the latest controversy – the messy goal-line sequence in the Oregon-Oregon State game – some analysts and former players are wondering if the problems are part of a larger issue.

“Generally, the performance on the field is not good enough,” said Evan Moore, the Fox analyst and former Stanford and NFL player, “and it starts at the top with leadership and recruitment.”

A Hotline investigation into Coleman’s background determined that his on-field experience falls far short of the industry standard applied by the other conferences that make up the Power Five.

Hired 5½ years ago, Coleman entered the Pac-12 during a tumultuous time for the officiating program.

He replaced Tony Corrente, who resigned abruptly during the 2014 season for “personal and professional” reasons. According to multiple sources, Corrente had differences with Dixon, the football supervisor who had no background as a player, coach or official but served a dual role as the Pac-12’s general counsel.

The conference appointed an interim to oversee the officiating program for the remainder of the 2014 season, then hired Coleman in the spring of 2015.

In the press release announcing the hire, the Pac-12 stated of Coleman: “As an official, he served as an Instant Replay Official for the NFL, including working Super Bowl XL, and served as a line judge in the Mid-American Conference and as a Referee in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference earlier in his career.”

The Hotline sought more detail and, over the course of a monthslong investigation, unearthed the following:

– Coleman worked in the replay booth for Super Bowl XL, but he was not the Instant Replay Official. Instead, he was the Replay Assistant, according to a database maintained by the NFL Referees Association.

Those are different roles, explained Michael Signora, NFL Senior Vice President of Football & International Communications:

“The replay official is the head of the replay crew and has authority to stop the game to initiate a review and provide administrative assistance to on-field officials.

“The replay assistant is focused on assisting the replay official with information that the replay official needs during the game.”

The Hotline asked the conference office for clarity on Coleman’s role in the NFL instant replay process and determined that Coleman was never the lead replay official.

Per a conference spokesperson:

“David was an instant replay official (video operator/replay assistant) for 11 seasons, including serving in that capacity on the crew for Super Bowl XL in 2006. His ring says National Football League Official on the top and Coleman Instant Replay on the side.”

– As the Pac-12 news release indicated in the spring of 2015, Coleman did, in fact, serve as a line judge in the Mid-American Conference. The extent of that experience, however, is limited.

The Hotline reached out to the MAC office about Coleman and asked for “the specifics of his experience with the conference.”

The following response from the MAC was received:

“After hearing back from our membership, David Coleman worked the following games during the 1996 season as a line judge for the MAC: Akron vs. Central Michigan on Oct. 12, 1996; Ball State vs. Eastern Michigan on Nov. 2, 1996; and a game our officials evidentially worked as well – Ashland vs. Youngstown State on Oct. 19, 1996.”

According to the MAC, the extent of Coleman’s experience was two games. (Ashland and Youngstown State are not major college teams.) That would make the entirety of his FBS experience … two games.

We checked with the Pac-12 to determine whether there were any additional examples of his on-field work within major college football.

The conference responded: “David was a line judge during the 1996 season. This has been verified by the Mid-American Conference.”

A comparison of resumes suggests that Coleman’s background as an FBS official does not stand up to the experience level of his peers.

The following information was gathered from biographies published by the conferences. (Note: The referee is the lead on-field official.)

ACC

Head of officiating: Dennis Hennigan

FBS on-field experience: 17 years as a referee; worked three Rose Bowls and a BCS championship game

Big 12

Head of officiating: Greg Burks

FBS on-field experience: 18 years in the Big 12; worked 17 bowl games and served as the referee for the first CFP title game

Big Ten

Head of officiating: Bill Carollo

FBS on-field experience: Eight years in the Big Ten, plus 20 in the NFL; worked two Super Bowls

SEC

Head of officiating: John McDaid

FBS on-field experience: Five years as a referee in the SEC, six in the American; worked four New Year’s Six bowl games

Pac-12

Head of officiating: David Coleman

FBS on-field experience: Two games as a linesman in the Mid-American Conference

Coleman wasn’t available to comment for this article.

But Hanks, the chief of football operations, issued a statement to the Hotline following a question about Coleman’s qualifications:

“In our shared time together at the NFL and in the Pac-12 conference, working with David has given me tremendous insight and admiration to his ability to lead Pac-12 officiating.

“I have complete confidence in David and our shared goals for the bright future of Pac-12 officiating have not changed.”

Following the instant replay controversy in 2018, the Pac-12 hired Sibson Consulting to conduct an independent review of all aspects of the officiating process.

The report determined the officiating program was “fundamentally sound.” But there were areas that didn’t measure up, including recruitment and training:

“The Pac-12 is the only Power Five Conference without an affiliated Group of Five recruiting and training partner for officiating, often called a ‘pipeline’, which is a major weakness.”

Does Coleman’s limited background as a major college official impact the conference’s ability to recruit?

“Give it a little time,’’ said Rod Gilmore, the Bay Area-based analyst for ESPN who worked the Oregon-OSU game. “Merton Hanks is a football guy. His hiring was highly respected.

“But I’m not sure he has a heavyweight official with him who knows respected officials across the country.

“I don’t know if he has that, and he probably needs it.”

Coleman managed the NFL’s development program. But does his lack of on-field experience impact the level of teaching and training within the Pac-12?

“They have repeated mistakes of mechanical and procedural stuff that they can’t seem to improve,’’ Moore said. “They have to find ways to get an obviously reviewable plays solved more quickly.”

Moore works Big 12 and Mountain West games for Fox and said “you see a lot of the same errors.”

But in the Pac-12, the mistakes are “sometimes more egregious than elsewhere.”

“I’m anxious to see what (Hanks) is able to do,” he added. “We’ll see if he’s able to bring about meaningful change. There is a problem that needs to be addressed.”

You can reach Jon Wilner via email at pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com.

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