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Thursday, January 29, 2009
Checking in with Bill Carollo, Part I

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Only 11 days have passed since Bill Carollo officiated his final NFL game in the AFC championship, but the longtime pro referee is quickly switching his focus from Sundays to Saturdays.

Carollo took over as Big Ten coordinator of football officials on Jan. 1 after being named to the position last year. Following two decades in the NFL, where he officiated two Super Bowls and eight conference championship games, Carollo returns to the college ranks, where he served as a Big Ten official from 1980-88. 

Carollo worked closely with outgoing Big Ten coordinator of officials Dave Parry throughout the 2008 season, corresponding every Monday to review the weekend's games, the key calls and the duties of the league's top officiating administrator. Carollo also traveled to the Holiday Bowl and spent time with the Big Ten officiating crew working the game. 

"Every week, I spent several hours talking to Dave about situations, how he was doing it and how I'd like to do it," Carollo said. "Obviously, it's in good shape, and I'm trying to continue to improve it." 

A Wisconsin native who still lives in the Milwaukee area, Carollo is spending several days a week at the Big Ten offices in Park Ridge, Ill. I caught up with him this afternoon to discuss his new job, the transition back to the college game and his plans for Big Ten officiating going forward. The second half of my interview with Carollo will be posted Friday morning. 

How many Big Ten officials do you know, just from crossing paths over the years?

Bill Carollo: I probably knew 80-plus percent pretty well. There's probably 10 percent I've met at clinics over the years, but that I maybe didn't know well. But some of them I actually refereed with. Some of them are replay people, some are technical advisors, a couple just came off the field. Since I stayed in the Midwest, it was relatively easy. I've already had all the head referees in two weeks ago for a day and a half. I did a 1-on-1 [meeting] for an hour with every referee, so they could know me a little bit better. At the same time, I wanted to understand some of their goals, what's on their mind, good things, bad things, so forth. And then we met as a team and spent an entire day with anybody who had worked a Big Ten game as a referee, young guys as well as our most veteran officials. And I had some outside help. Jerry Markbreit, who was from the NFL, from Chicago, former Big Ten guy, excellent trainer, does the training for the NFL officials, I had him come in and talk. We didn't talk about roughing the quarterback or roughing the kicker, X's and O's for football. We talked about leadership and professionalism. We spent about a day and a half doing that. I also presented to them what my vision, what the program's going to look like. But we never put up one football play. So there's some things I wanted to communicate with the head referees first, making sure they understood what I expected of them, how the program would change or maybe expand with some additional responsibility and also accountability for the head referees. And then the week after next, I'll meet with all the replay people that we have. I will be getting with each subgroup within the Big Ten in the next 90 days.

You mention additional responsibilities for the head referees. Does that relate to crew evaluations, game-day duties, anything specific?

BC: I kind of laid out the program and said, 'I can't do all these things by myself.' Some of it has to do with technology enhancements. Some has to do with giving them a little bit more responsibility with their crew, and in the offseason, helping me do some of the training and run some of the clinics and manage some of the communication lines to everybody on their crew. When we go to spring games, I would like to see a mini clinic and start recruiting or training some of the local people at each of the schools. Instead of going in and doing a spring game, let's not waste that opportunity. Let's spend some time with the coaches and the local officials. Let's invite them in so we can help train and give a little bit more back as far as running the mini clinic in conjunction with the spring games. I'll also ask them to do a little bit more as far as taking the lead on some of the new technology, making sure their crews are trained properly. I spent a lot of time on leadership and professionalism because if they're going to wear the white hat and be a crew leader in the Big Ten, they represent the Big Ten. So here are the things I'm going to expect you to do on and off the field, and some of it has to do with football training. I think it was well received. Change is always tough. People don't like change, but they're excited about it so far.

As far as technology, what are some of the changes you might bring in for next year and beyond?

BC: There's some infrastructure things that have to be done, as far as some Web site software where we do the grading and the communications. We allow the coaches to send in plays electronically, not just pick up the phone and call and say, ' think these three plays were mishandled on the field.' There's some software that can do that. A lot of it is downloading. If I want to see all the pass interferences on the weekend, or if you wanted to take a look at all the roughing-the-passer calls to see what other people are calling, we're going to put training tapes by categories or by positions and put it up on the Web site. Each crew will download that each week and review it. So we're going to automate the process and look at plays from around the country, plays from around the Big Ten. We're going to look at plays where other people had the same type of call. Here are five holding calls that are good calls and here's a couple that aren't good calls and here's the reason why. That would be all voiceover with the video program. That really isn't in place today. That's what I've been doing in the several months leading up to January 1, figuring out who's doing what, what we want to do, the costs it will take and then going back to the league and the schools and presenting the benefits of the program.

Have you talked to the Big Ten coaches about their expectations for you and vice versa?

BC: Back in June, when I was announced, I received a bunch of letters and some phone calls [from coaches]. And between February 15 and March 15, I'll visit each school and sit down face to face with the athletic director, with the head coach and their staff. Some I know pretty well and some have crossed paths in the NFL and some were around in my Big Ten days. But not as well as I know the referees. It's important for me to sit down face to face, 'Here's the program,' and also go there and listen. Listen to the issues, listen to the things that are important to the coaches, what they want to hear, what they don't want to hear from the Big Ten office as well as from the officials. I'll be in listen-mode, but also I'm prepared to give them a PowerPoint presentation or a discussion for a couple of hours or do an in-depth look at film with them and talk about how we're going to handle it going forward.

As far as the rule differences between the NFL and college, is that hard for you to transition back to after spending so many years at the pro level?

BC: The good news is the NFL and the NCAA, for the last five years, continually make changes each year to try to come closer with one set of rules. Will there be some differences and some changes? Sure. There's a little bit of penalty enforcement. I used to be a pretty good colleg
e rules guy, and when I went to the pros, I wasn't a very good rules guy. I had to learn 'em. So even in the last 12 months, I wasn't trying to be an expert on the college stuff. I didn't really crack the book until my last [NFL] game. I didn't want to confuse even a minor, minor rule that has to do with the clock stopping or starting. The rules are pretty close. I've got a good summary of the differences between Sunday's games and Saturday's games. So it'll take a little bit of work, but I've got really good head referees and some people that are pretty good on the rules if I have a question and it's not really clear. But certainly, I've got the offseason to get up to speed on it. I'm pretty comfortable now with them, but am I an expert? No, no. I have to ask a few people to get some help.

With replay, is it the same sort of thing, the differences between college and pro?

BC: The replay area is probably even closer in the same set of rules, what's reviewable and what isn't reviewable. The only difference is the procedure. The procedure on Sunday is the referee makes the final decision and he's looking at the play, at the video, with the replay operator. In college, it's even tougher. The pressure is all on my replay operator. He makes the decision, and then the referee comes over and makes the final announcement. So there's going to be a lot of training, standard procedures for our replay people. But understanding what's reviewable and what should be overturned and not and what's the criteria, that is probably 100 percent the same, except for who is actually going to make the call. In college, the guy upstairs looks at every single play, where the guy in the pros, in the last two minutes of each half, he's responsible. But for the other 28 minutes of the half, that's all done by the coaches. If you want to challenge, if you think it's wrong, challenge. Throw the flag. So it's usually big-ticket items.