On any given Sunday in the NFL, everyone on the field is under some type of pressure. The players need to execute while the coaches need to call the right plays. Meanwhile, the referees need to call the game correctly lest fans accuse them of being incompetent, unjust, or both. The NFL has had its fair share of officiating issues over the past year. But there are two NFL refs, just hired this past offseason, who should know what they’re doing.
The two former NFL players hired as referees
While all NFL referees possess a solid understanding of the game and how it should be played, no one understands the game quite like a former NFL player. They lived the game and have an intimate knowledge of what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Two of the newest NFL refs have that knowledge. The NFL hired six new officials this offseason, with two of them being former players.
According to the Associated Press:
“Field judge Nate Jones joins the NFL officiating staff from the Pac-12, following an eight-year pro career as a defensive back. Umpire Terry Killens was a linebacker during his seven NFL seasons before officiating in the American Athletic Conference.”
But who are these players, and what did they accomplish in the NFL?
Nate Jones NFL career recap
Jones played for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in college. The Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the seventh round (205 overall) in the 2004 NFL draft.
During his eight-year career, Jones played defensive back for the Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots. His career lasted longer than most, but he was never a star. Jone recorded three career interceptions, 232 tackles, and six sacks. He also returned 10 kicks in his career for 178 yards total. His teams made it to the playoffs four times, in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011.
Terry Killens’ pro career
Killens entered the NFL out of Penn State University when he went to the Houston Oilers in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft. Along with playing for Houston/Tennessee, he also played for the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
Killens’ NFL career lasted seven years. While he played 98 games over that span, he only started four. He finished with 57 total tackles, one sack, and defended three passes. Killens went to the playoffs four times: 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002.
While both Jones and Killens had pedestrian NFL careers at best, they now have an opportunity to continue to make an even greater impact on the game as officials. And judging by the state of NFL officiating in recent years, they’re arriving at just the right time.
Recent issues with the NFL refs
Fans, players, and coaches never hesitate to lay into poor officiating, but NFL refs haven’t been up to par lately. One play, in particular, caused the football community to examine NFL officiating under a much closer microscope: the non-pass interference call in the Saints-Rams NFC championship game last season.
The non-call opened up Pandora’s Box with concerning how replay can be used to assist the officials in getting the call right. In the case of the Saints-Rams game, the play was not eligible to be reviewed for two reasons:
- Penalties are not reviewable
- There was no call on the field, so therefore there was technically nothing to review
USA Today suggested four ways to help fix NFL officiating. One of those ideas included making every play reviewable. That makes sense. It wouldn’t lead to more reviews — teams would presumably have the same number of challenges were this rule enacted — it would simply open up the number of plays that could be reviewed. It would have also sent the Saints to the Super Bowl.
The NFL should act fast to implement some new ways to help officials like Jones and Killens next season to give them a better chance to do their jobs more effectively.