Outside the Lines:
Upon Further Review

 

Here's the transcript from Show 147 of weekly Outside The Lines - Upon Further Review

SUN., JAN. 19, 2003
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN
Guests: Red Cashion, officiated 25 years in NFL; Jason Gildon, linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers; Jim Mora, former NFL head coach.

ANNOUNCER - January 19, 2003.

BOB LEY, HOST: After a series of controversial calls, NFL team officials are under fire.

RON BLUM, NFL REFEREE - I don't believe that's a challengeable play. But I will double check.

BILL COWHER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS COACH - For me to have to explained to an official what's reviewable and what's not, that's wrong.

BOB LEY - Officials are the butt of jokes.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST - Number seven, not actually a referee, I'm just a guy who works at "Foot Locker."

EDDIE GEORGE, TENNESSE TITAN QUARTERBACK - All you can do is just hope and pray that they make the right call, and it doesn't get favored.

LEY - Criticism and human error are both parts of the game. But this game, like no other, uses technology to strive for perfection.

UNIDENTIFIED NFL REFEREE - After further review...

UNIDENTIFIED NFL REFEREE - You go out there to be perfect. We know we are not perfect, but we want to be perfect.

BRIAN BILLICK, RAVENS HEAD COACH - We are holding the officials to an unrealistic perfection that can't be attained.

LEY - Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES, are changes needed? And if so, which ones? As NFL officiating comes under further review.

LEY - First this morning, some essential truths. Game officials in pro sports are the best in their profession, and they get just about all of the calls correct just about all of the time under conditions the rest of us cannot simple imagine. And there will always be the despair of loosing players and coaches, and their criticism of officials.

Now the NFL has, from time to time, admitted that its officials have missed calls, but this seemed a little bit different. Consecutive playoff weekends with game ending controversy, and the suggestion of an anonymous, but substantial, anger among game officials. The phrase dates from the 1980s, when the league's first use of instant replay. Upon further review. It's become a punch line, part of the national slang. And now that very review is focused by the public and the league on the men with the whistles and what, if anything, needs to be fixed.

(ANNOUNCER RADIO CALL) - Low on the ground. He has to peel off. Allen the holder has the ball. Rolling right. Throws it over the air and there will be pass interference at the 5 yard line but there's another foul up field.

LEY - When the calls go bad with everyone watching and the league must admit as much, the quest for football perfection and intense playoff scrutiny create the perfect storm of controversy and satire.

LETTERMAN - Top 10 NFL referee explanations. Number nine, calling penalties isn't my strong suit - - I'm more of a coin toss guy.

BLUM - I don't believe that's a challengeable play, but I will double check.

LETTERMAN - Number seven. Not actually a referee. I'm just a guy who works at Foot Locker. Number six...

LEY - When an editorial cartoon has the president warning against a threat to American's way of life, they got to be stopped. Then, NFL officials are part of a national debate. The question on this conference championship weekend is how can the NFL, dedicated to the pursuit of officiating perfection, avoid such high profile controversies?

DONOVAN MCNABB, EAGLES QUARTERBACK - That's the subject I will not touch. I think the only way by eliminating that is just by playing a game...

LEY - A nice theory in a perfect world. To err is human, and officials are flesh and blood. But even the laudable quest for perfection carried out in public by referee Ron Blum in the Steelers-Titans playoff game, raised issues.

BLUM - It's determined that the play is reviewable. I will now review the play.

COWHER - For me to have to explain to an official of what's reviewable and what's not, that's wrong.

LEY - Beyond the judgment call of the game changing running into the kicker penalty, was the assertion by Steeler linebacker Jason Gildon, that moments later, umpire Chad Brown incorrectly told him the Steelers were out of timeouts.

JASON GILDON, STEELERS LINEBACKER - I mean, it's pathetic. The guy falls down on when rushing the punter - - on the kicker, and then they wouldn't give me a timeout. I mean, how do you explain something like that? He told us we didn't have any timeouts.

UNKNOWN REPORTER - While you were talking to him?

GILDON - I called him by his first name, OK? I want a timeout. He said we don't have any. As a ref, he's supposed to know, if anybody, if we have any timeouts. And he plainly told me we don't have any.

JOEY PORTER, STEELERS LINEBACKER - When he said we didn't have no more timeouts, that's the last timeout, I mean, he ought to lose his job for that.

LEY - This, five days after the NFL admitted officials missed an obvious pass interference penalty that would have given the Giants another attempt at a game winning field goal against the 49ers.

JIM FASSEL, GIANTS HEAD COACH - I think that the hardest part for me is that, you know, you can see or not see something, or disagree with something, but when something is obvious, you should be watched by one official's eyes. The lineup, who's the eligible guys, I've got that guy. You got to see that. You got to see that.

LEY - Following that chaotic end game, the NFL announced an immediate change of officiating procedures.

PAUL TAGLIABUE, NFL COMMISSIONER - We are going to make some changes right away, in terms of guaranteeing that if there is any kind of a situation any way similar to this at the end of a game, the crew conference will include all the officials, not just the officials who have thrown flags, or not just some of the officials.

LEY - The NFL also changed the mechanics for officiating field goal attempts. Those public stance and the scrutiny from the Titans-Steelers game prompted an unnamed veteran game official to tell the "New York Times", "Moral right now is the lowest it has ever been since I've been in the league - - there is also disgust with the league office. They are hanging us out to dry when they are completely aware of the problems that exist."

BILLICK - As frustrated as I get with the coach, I think we have the best officials in any professional sport. I think because of the focus that we bring to it; we are holding the officials to an unrealistic perfection that can't be attained.

LEY - That word, perfection, came up often in ESPN's 1994 "Behind the Scenes" weekend with an NFL officiating crew.

UNIDENTIFIED NFL REFEREE - You go out there to be perfect. We know we are not perfect, but we want to be perfect, and we take the 'I think' out of our vocabulary.

LEY - To that end, the officials are tested weekly on rules and review tape of their work.

UNIDENTIFIED NFL REFEREE - Get those feet out of the cement.

LEY - Beyond the grades in critique they receive from league supervisors, is a constant dose of self-evaluation...

UNIDENTIFIED NFL REFEREE - OK, listen. I want to make a comment about that major face mask Mike had.

LEY - These are part-time officials, but the latest controversies have re-ignited the debate whether they should work full-time for the NFL.

ROD WOODSON, RAIDERS SAFETY - I think the issue is that they are going full-time. They don't understand it all. You know, a part-time employee knows less about the procedures than a full-time employee. That's just natural. And these guys have jobs throughout the week, and then they are trying to become an NFL official on the weekend, that's pretty tough to do.

LEY - But others say those off-field careers are exactly why it would be impossible to recruit equally competent full-time officials.

FASSEL - I don't think full-time officials will work, because a lot of these guys have very successful careers outside of officiating. They are not going to give up those careers, and now you are going to ask a guy, just become an official, I am not sure you are going to have the same quality person.

LEY - What the NFL has are part-time officials under full-time scrutiny by at least five, and often more, replay capable television cameras. Many of the officials on field decisions can be reversed. Following the infamous tuck-reversal last season, Oakland's Rich Gannon, admittedly the losing quarterback, criticized, quote - "The uncertainty and indecisiveness of officials. You look into the officials' eyes and see that they're not sure. The officials are relying on replays to make judgments and decisions. There's too many who are indecisive, unsure and maybe in over their heads." That, he said, because of replay.

BILLICK - I think replay has succeeded in what it was intended to do, and that was to remove the egregious error, not like the officiating in itself, I think we're holding it accountable for more than we should, but it is a work in process, and I am one of those - - in progress, I should say. And I am one of those that believes the game is better with it than without it.

LEY - With the ideal as commendable as it may be elusive, of calling the perfect game.

LEY - There are fewer replay reviews under the current system than the original system back beginning in the mid 1980s, but that number has been steadily growing, increasing 50 percent over these four years of the current replay system. It is likely, that in March, the league is going to add another use of technology, more communication between the booth upstairs to the officials on the to the officials on the field to urge crew conferences on some plays.

Joining us this morning, Red Cashion, for 25 seasons an official of National Football League, most of them as a referee. He worked Super Bowl XX and Super Bowl XXX. He retired following the 1996 season. He still conducts clinics for league officials, and he is the official's voice on a popular video game. He is in Orlando. Good morning, Red.

RED CASHION, NFL REFEREE FOR 25 YEARS - Well, good morning.

LEY - And Jim Mora. He is with us this morning. He coached 15 years as a head coach in the National Football League, taking the New Orleans Saints to their first ever winning and playoff seasons, and leading the Colts to a divisional championship. Good morning again, Jim.

JIM MORA, FORMER NFL HEAD COACH OF THE SAINTS (1986-96) AND THE COLTS (1998-2001) - Good morning, Bob. How you doing?

LEY - Good to see you. Red, let me begin with you. What do you make of the last two weeks?

CASHION - Bob, we had some errors that were critical in a game and we hope that doesn't happen, but the errors do happen.

LEY - All right, but you heard in the report, at least one anonymous official described in the "New York Times" on page one, I should add. Said that there is a morale problem, being hung out dry. Can you understand why some officials would be upset? Why would they be upset?

CASHION - I don't know exactly why they would be upset other than the fact that perhaps when these things happen, there is more criticism than there normally is. There is a change because of replay over the last four years. It takes longer than one season, or two or even four, to get used to all the things that are going to happen, and when you have changes, when you have changes as far as the whole setup is concerned, perhaps it does cause some confusion among the officials to get settled in to what is going to be used and how it is going to be used...

LEY - But they sound upset with the league office, at least in that one particular instance.

CASHION - Well, I don't know of any reason that that occurs except you do have new administration in the officiating department, and any time you've got a major change with leadership, perhaps it takes a while for things to get settled in, but that will happen.

LEY - All right, Jim, what do you make of these past two weeks and what we've seen?

MORA - Well, you know, there has been some critical calls at the end of games, which actually influenced the games a great deal, caused one team to win and one team to lose. And my feeling is this, why it is so critical that the officiating in the National Football League be as close to perfect as possible. And I know it is impossible for it to be entirely perfect, and these guys are humans just like all of us and we make errors. But you know, you compare the NFL to the NBA or to Major League Baseball, and there are so many games that are played in the NBA or in baseball during the course of the year, and if you lose one, it's not such a big deal.

But in the National Football League you only get sixteen opportunities, and if you lose one of those games, or win one of those games, whatever, and a game is influenced by an official's call, or lost by an official's call and they do make a mistake, I mean, it's a difference between a winning season, a losing season, a playoff appearance, a non playoff appearance. You look at the Dolphins and the Patriots this year, 9-7

LEY - It costs you your job, right?

MORA - Well, it could, certainly. Or you could be -- they could be 10-6. Now I am not saying any of their games were influenced by an official's decision, but it is so important that these guys do the very, very best job that they can do. There is some great officials in the National Football League, but I think there are some that aren't good enough. And I think they have as much opportunities to throw the flag, or not throw the flag, as anyone else on the crew.

LEY - How well, in your opinion, Jim Mora, does the league do in dealing with what you see as the inconsistency among the levels of officiating confidence?

MORA - Well, that's the one thing -- listen, I -- Mike Pereira and Larry Upson, who head up the officiating department, do a great job. Jerry Seaman did a great job. He was there before they were. And I think they train these guys, they evaluate them, and yet there is still inconsistencies.

And I saw it every week, and that's what bothers you the most. Like the play in the Pittsburgh-Titan game, at the end of the game, the running in to the kicker. I am not so sure that would have been called running in the kicker, 10 times if it would of occurred 10 times by 10 different referees.

LEY - Red, what about the personal discretion that a referee does have, and we know, for example, that coaches -- some of them chart tendencies of officials -- this guy might make a lot of holding calls, this guy may call pass interference more than that. But what about, for example, referees' personal discretion in the middle of a game situation, taking into account the stakes for a play such as that Titans' game?

CASHION - Bob, I think that the referees work very hard to be as consistent as possible, but you are talking about plays that involve judgment, and the judgment by these officials will not always be exactly the same, and that is why I think officiating is an art and not a science. There's also the...

LEY - But the NFL is trying to make it into a science, right, aren't they, by -- with this quest for perfection, which is laudable, but you say art, but science is perfection?

CASHION - Well, but that is part of the reason for the confusion, is that the interpretation has to be as consistent as possible, but when you've got 16 different people making that same call, there are certain times when a little bit of difference can occur. And that's the thing that we are working very hard to overcome, is to try to be more consistent.

LEY - All right, we are going to step aside for just a second, and pick up. We've got other topics to talk about, such as replay, the impact on officials, and the possibility of full-time officials. We will be back with Red Cashion and Jim Mora as we continue OUTSIDE THE LINES.

BLUM - After further review, by the instant replay official, the play stands...

MORA - First of all, you are going to ask me what I thought of the call last week on Frank Warren. (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

LEY - Jim, I am sure you think we have a personal vault of tape with which we try to torture you every time you appear with us, but thanks, that was about 1989, that your reaction to some calls. We are back with Jim Mora and with Red Cashion.

Let's talk about replay, gentlemen. And we heard what Rich Gannon said, admittedly the losing quarterback in that snow-angle tuck-game last year. Jim, do you share any of what Rich said about the impact that officials in his eyes, and we've heard it from other people, has had, in their opinion, on officials?

MORA - The impact of what now, Bob?

LEY - The replay on official...

MORA - Oh, replay. You know what, I don't think it affects officials at all. That's my opinion, and I've talked to officials about this, and I've got some good friends who are NFL officials and I've had people say, well does it make them lazy, or more conscious of their calls, because they know they are under this intense scrutiny from instant replay and all, that they might mess it up on the field and then instant replay correct it.

I don't think it affects their job at all. I really don't. I like instant replay, but I think the officials, regardless of instant replay or not, basically are going to react the same during the game.

LEY - But there was a time you were on the fence about instant replay. What brought you over on it?

MORA - Well, I don't know. You know, like for many, many years I was kind of on the fence. You know, people would ask me, well , what do you think? Well I, you know, I like it. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't. But the more I saw it the last couple of years of my head coaching career, and then even this year when I've really sat down and watched more games on television than I ever have before, a lot more games, and I see the good that it does and how it can correct mistakes that have outcome on the game, then I - - huge plays - - then I like it. I think there's a definite place for it.

LEY - Red, I know a lot of officials, and when they speak publicly, they say we want the perfect game. We want to get the call right, but what is it like to have five, seven, eight, nine TV cameras - - and of course you worked two Super Bowls, many more - - scrutinizing your every move, knowing you could be reversed?

CASHION - Well, that's just part of being in the kitchen. If you don't like that scrutiny, you don't want this job. But I do think that the instant replay has helped the officials from the standpoint that the one thing they really want more than anything else is not to make an error. And if it takes instant replay to correct it, why then, I think they are very much in favor of it. The other side of the coin, I think that there's been such an increased interest by the fans in some of the details of the game itself that only instant replay can show, that it's been a big enjoyment to the fan, and the NFL wants to present the most entertaining package as possible, and I think instant replay is part of that.

LEY - But the way technological advances are going with high definition television, it's almost as if these cameras are going to see games better than officials.

CASHION - Well, I think that that's entirely true, but that's true when you've got 12 different angles, because the official only has one. When you've got 12 angles on a replay game, the odds are that you are going to see more than the official can see. Now, instant - - high definition TV is going to bring up new problems. For example, with the hands under the ball - - if the ball touches a blade of grass that didn't get cut, does that make the ball or the pass incomplete? And those questions haven't all been answered yet, but high definition television will bring about new questions and new answers, as far as officiating is concerned.

LEY - While looking towards the future and in light of what's happened the last couple of weeks, Jim, one of the suggestions, and it comes up periodically. Why doesn't the league have full-time officials? What do you think would be gained by having full-time officials?

MORA - Well, first of all, Bob, I -- this is from a coach's standpoint, and Red probably has a better feeling on this, but I don't see how they can justify having full-time officials. I mean, these guys all have -- most of them have full-time jobs that they work Monday through Friday. They basically fly into the city where the game is being played on Saturday. I know they have their meetings at night, to review the previous week's game as a crew. They do the game Sunday and then they fly out Sunday night back home and go to work Monday.

And I knew they -- I know they do have some things during the week where they, you know, study film, the rules and things like that. But really, they work from September, October, November, December. That's the regular season. That's 17 weeks. And then the four pre-season games.

So you are talking about five months for all of them. You've got the playoffs that involve some. What do they do the rest of the year, and what do they do most of the time Monday through Friday? I don't know how you justify it.

LEY - Red? Anything to gain by going full-time?

CASHION - I agree with Jim, and I don't think that the full-time officiating would do anything but hurt the whole system and the quality of officiating. But one thing, the player goes straight from college in to pro ball. The official probably works 15 to 20 years before he has a shot at the professional league.

So what does he do during that period of time. If he's successful in another venture, then you are not going to get him to go into pro officiating, and I think it is very important that these people do what they do best of all, which is make decisions. And the practice during the week is make decisions plus Monday night it's Monday Night Football, Tuesday night it's study the tape from the game. Wednesday night you probably are going to talk to your other crewmembers. Friday night you are probably going to a high school game and watch the officials more than the fans do. Saturday you start all over again.

So it's pretty full-time as far as the time commitment is concerned.

LEY - Red, let me ask you this question, and you hear it talked about and people are, I think, are a little loath to go on the record about it. It is a delicate one, especially as I address a man who refereed for 25 years and is retired. And it is the age of officials and you hear people inside the game saying, you know, it's amazing the age that some of these guys are still out there working. Can you address that?

CASHION - I don't think age is a factor in officiating anymore than it is in being a commentator. I think you have got to be physically qualified. I think you've got to be mentally qualified. But I don't know anybody that is capable of determining that a certain age keeps you from doing that. I think that some officials grab the whole system quicker than others, and I am more interested in the quality than I am what their age is.

LEY - Jim Mora, in one sentence, if you can capsulate it in on sentence. What changes need to be made, if any, off these last several weeks?

MORA - That's a good question. I don't know. I don't know how you improve the consistency of officiating other than to continue to train and make sure in evaluation that you are getting the very best guys doing every game. And the in-season games are just as important as the playoff games.

LEY - And the big ones are here today, certainly, and they have been with us for several weeks. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us. Red Cashion and Jim Mora. We appreciate you taking the time.

CASHION - My pleasure.

MORA - Thanks, Bob.

LEY - Next week up in a week - - thank you, Jim. In a week, will the Bengals hire Marvin Lewis? We check the emotional response to last week's look at minority hiring of head coaches.

LEY - Last Sunday, several days before Marvin Lewis was hired as the Bengal's head coach, we examined the situation for African-American head coaches in the National Football League. The league has been threatened with a class-action civil rights law suit in that area, and now requires that clubs interview at least one minority candidate for each head coaching vacancy. The topic, as we saw, leaves few people in the middle.

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW" - A lawsuit is not the solution to the problem. The solution, and a lot of people will be angry about this, is time and a little patience.

KELLEN WINSLOW, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1979-1987) - ... was the civil rights after 1965, we were told to be patient. Here we are in 2003, and you're telling me again to be patient?

LOWRY - Well, look...

WINSLOW - Patience is something that we have been very patient with. It is now time for action. It is now time for people to put up or shut up.

LEY - On this topic, the e-mail running overwhelmingly against Kellen Winslow's positions. Quote - "Apparently African-Americans having a majority of the player positions on the field along with the 150 or so assistant coaching positions is not enough for Kellen. He is searching for the fork to eat the entire cake."

And this - "How can simply interviewing one person of color for the job help the African-American community? This idea seems insulting and condescending."

And this e-mail - "Why not just make all teams half black and half white including coaches, owners and popcorn vendors. Then we can just play the game."



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