Dean Blandino is in his first year as the NFL's vice president of officiating after starting with the league in 1994 as an officiating intern. Since Blandino joined the NFL's officiating department 15 years ago, he has held many roles. His prior position was the director of the league's instant replay program. He even left the NFL briefly to create his own referees consulting company.
Prior to a flight for a rules presentation with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, Blandino talked with NFL Evolution contributing editor Bill Bradley. They discussed his new position, major rules changes and what's ahead for the officiating department.
You're in the first year of this job as NFL director of officiating. Was this your goal when you started working in the league office?
No. I was an intern when I started. I had no expectations of what I wanted to do in the league. I got into the instant replay office and I went from there. I had no expectation that I would eventually be in charge.
Your predecessors have turned this into a high-profile job. How do you feel about the pressure of what has become an important position with the NFL?
It's a big responsibility. But we have a responsibility to educate the fans. We need to tell them what the rules are and why officials are calling a penalty. It's really important that we get these things right. There's so much reaction to instant media, like Twitter and Facebook, that it's important that the right information gets out there. I cherish the opportunity and I look forward to educating the fans as well as trying to inform them.
You picked a year to take over that includes some controversial rule changes. First, how has implementation of the crown-of-the-helmet rule gone?
It's gone well. From the initial shock that the coaches first had when they heard of it, it's died down some. There was so much misinformation when the new rule was just announced. But once we got it out to the coaches ... we got them to the point where they understood what it takes to make it an illegal play. There really hasn't been a lot of pushback from them.
What has been the process for teaching players how the crown-of-the-helmet rule will be called?
We have had officials go to every training camp and teach players what the changes are this season (with video examples). The crown of the helmet rule is the first rule on that tape. All of the players will watch and see examples of what we will call and what we won't. Then the officials will go through a Q-and-A session with the players.
What questions are the referees getting from the players?
Some are saying, "What if I need to lower my shoulder to protect myself?" The way we've educated them on delivering a blow, they have options to avoid going into a hit with the crown.
What about the leg and thigh pads rule? That is under the guidance of NFL VP of Football Operations Merton Hanks, but it could involve game officials yanking players off the field. How has the implementation of that rule gone?
That's another rule that our officials are educating the players about. Merton's staff of uniform inspectors will be pointing out to us which players are in violation of the rule during games. From the officiating standpoint, we are following the direction they give us. For instance, if they tell us that No. 63 is in violation of the uniform rule, then he has to leave. We're taking their direction and then assessing the fouls. If the player tries to come back into the game, then it's a 5-yard penalty. If he continues to try to enter the game, then we'll keep assessing penalties until he qualifies for disqualification.
You can throw a penalty flag for being in violation of the leg pads rule?
That's true for trying to enter the field with any kind of equipment violation. We would rather the issue be handled with the uniform inspector and the team, but if it continues, then it could result in a penalty.
Those are the basic mechanisms that we have in the game outside of the last two minutes. The ball must be placed, and the umpire must be in place before the ball can be snapped. That's just part of the rules. We're not going to rush that process to accommodate an offense that is going snap the ball immediately. ... Now, we have made some adjustments during the two-minute drill because we want to allow those hurry-up offenses to do their job in the final minutes. But the normal-ball mechanism is to have the umpire in place in the defensive backfield before the ball can be snapped.
College football also will debut a controversial rule this year. What do you think of the NCAA's new targeting rule that will eject players if they target an opponent?
I think it's a step in the right direction. They always have had that rule. It's just that the ejection part of it is new. And now that penalty is subject to replay review. For the NCAA, the standard of player safety is a No. 1 priority, and they have made it a key topic of discussion.
Do you think the NFL would ever go as far as adding a targeting rule?
I think the biggest difference between the NFL game and the college game in this regard is that we always have had the ability to eject or suspend players. Colleges didn't have that before. College football needs to take that next step. In the fine process, certainly we can do that because our players are professionals. However, colleges are taking a step in the right direction.
What safety-related rules changes do you see coming in the next few years?
I see nothing right now, but player safety is always on the table. We have nothing as major as pads or crown of the helmet rules planned, but we will continue to look at ways to get players to lower their target.