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Changes coming for NFL officials

The officiating crew, from left: umpire Fred Bryan, field judge Aaron Santi, down judge Mark Hittner, line judge Kent Payne, referee Clete Blakeman, side judge Dyrol Prioleau, and back judge Tony Steratore pose for a photograph before the AFC championship NFL football game between the New England Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s not often that the NFL officials make as much news in the offseason as the players while changing jobs, but this was not an ordinary offseason for the guys in stripes.

While that may be an exaggeration, the fact is that four NFL referees decided to move on from their jobs over the past several months, leaving the need for some replacements.

The league announced its complete roster for 2018 and it will include seven first-year NFL officials among the group of 121.

The newcomers include field judges Land Clark (Pac-12), Matt Edwards (Big Ten), Anthony Jeffries (SEC) and Don Willard (Big Ten), side judge Chad Hill (SEC), back judge Tony Josselyn (SEC), and line judge Mark Stewart (Big 12).

With longtime referees Terry McAulay, Gene Steratore, Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette deciding to move on, the league needed to promote four officials to replace them. Shawn Hochuli, Alex Kemp, Clay Martin and Shawn Smith all were college referees prior to entering the NFL at different positions and have been part of the NFL’s referee training program since entering the league. Hochuli and Kemp are entering their fifth NFL seasons while Martin and Smith will enter their fourth.

Hochuli (Ed) and Kemp (Stan) are sons of former NFL referees. Also, two sets of fathers and sons are included among the roster of officials — Walt Coleman, the dean of NFL officials entering his 30th season, and his son, Walt IV and Steve Freeman and his son, Brad — as well as three sets of brothers – Allen and Rusty Baynes, Jeff and Jerry Bergman and Carl, Dino and Perry Paganelli.

According to the NFL’s release, Steve Freeman and Phil McKinnely are the only current game officials to have also enjoyed NFL playing careers. Freeman played for 13 seasons, including 12 as a defensive back with the Buffalo Bills from 1975–86. McKinnely played for seven seasons on the offensive line from 1976–82, including five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons from 1976–80. 

Interestingly, three of the retired referees won’t be far from the spotlight. McAulay left his post to join NBC’s crew on Sunday nights as a rules analyst while Steratore did the same for CBS and Triplette will join ESPN.

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