Dean Blandino was never an on-field official. But as his job as the senior vice president of officiating went, the idea was the similar to that of the guys he managed: the less the job he did went noticed, the better.
That’s where the NFL will need to make up for his departure, which has been long rumored and became formal this week with a memo that went to all 32 teams.
Now, your point of reference may be how he explained judgment calls during his NFL Network segments (he’ll get to do a lot more of that on TV now), or how he detailed rules changes every March at the league meeting. But the most important part of his job was what he was doing every Monday and Tuesday and Friday, and that was managing all the fallout from game day.
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Blandino’s strength lies in his people skills. And that’s why the public didn’t see a fraction of the fires he had to put out over the last four years. As one league official explained, it wasn’t uncommon for a furious coach to call 345 Park Avenue on a Monday morning and hang up 10 minutes later satisfied after talking to Blandino.
One NFC head coach texted on Friday morning, “He’s always been good with me. Tries to be honest when they make mistakes.” An AFC head coach added via text, “He did a very good job. Consistent. We liked him in our building.” Another NFC head coach said, “He was very objective and willing to admit mistakes, and reason with you. If he was wrong, he’d admit it. If he was right, he’d explain it. But the biggest thing is he was consistent. … Dean just stayed true to the rules.”
Having to deal with so many of those dustups is, as I understand it, one reason why he’s leaving. During the final weeks of the 2016 regular season, rumors spread that Blandino could be looking to leave. At the NFL Referee Association’s recent spring meeting, that buzz persisted. So it’s not as if this has caught either the league or its officials off guard.
And it’s easy to see why TV would appeal to Blandino. Those jobs pay well, too, without the round-the-clock nature of his job at 345 Park, and would tap into the relationships he’s built and what one person who would know described as his “encyclopedic” knowledge of the rules.
Fewer headaches. Less stress. More time for family.
Says one coach about Blandino, “If he was wrong, he’d admit it. If he was right, he’d explain it.”
Now, all of that said, that doesn’t mean there’s not opportunity here for the NFL to get better as a result of this move through a search for his replacement that’s already underway.
The biggest complaint that game officials had about Blandino—and this is coming from the more experienced, seasoned on-field guys—was that he’d never been in the fire. And with the league set to centralize replay, on-field experience will, as I understand it, be viewed as a plus in prospective candidates by the league office.
To some degree the change coming in centralizing replay has been overblown. Officials were able in the past to communicate with 345 Park through a headset when they went under the replay hood. The difference now is that it’ll happen on the field, with the official handed a tablet, and the league office carrying the hammer.
The idea is to expedite the process, and having a leader assuming that kind of authority who’s been in the official’s position would at the very least make for easier and faster conversation. That, of course, isn’t the only area where the new SVP of officiating would benefit from real officiating experience, and there’s an acknowledgement that Blandino’s ability to bridge the gap is no guarantee someone else would be able to.
We’ll hear about candidates in the coming weeks. Blandino will be gone at the end of May, and it seems unrealistic that the league would have his replacement ready to go on June 1. Al Riveron, Blandino’s deputy, would be one candidate for the spot, and would be a good one from a technical standpoint.
Does he have the people skills necessary to do the job?
That’ll be an important question not just for Riveron but for any candidate, as well as all the people who deal with the SVP of officiating on a regular basis during an NFL season.
When I talked to NFLRA executive director Scott Green on Friday morning, here’s what he said: “I was looking forward to working with Dean in my role. We’ve got big issues to discuss, so I’m anxious to see which direction the league goes.”
Lots of people are. The coaches. The officials. Those on the competition committee.
Fact is, there are lots of relationships to manage in that position. And while Blandino was far from perfect in his four years, the NFL would be fortunate to find someone else who could manage all those people, and their problems, the way he did.