The Interview: Mike Pereira

Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira has gotten quite the makeover. Both literally and figuratively. His new job with Fox is quite revolutionary, but he’s also dressing a hell of a lot cooler than he did during his reign as the league’s officiating czar. And while that last point is pretty much irrelevant, it made this introduction flow more smoothly. Here’s a recent conversation I had with the coolest former referee in sports:

This transition you’ve made from the face of officiating in the league to a guy who is now paid to frankly scrutinize and analyze good and bad calls is quite drastic. How has it been for you?

“I actually think it’s gone better than I thought it would. It’s such an interesting perspective from the standpoint where I’m watching the same thing but I’m in a position where I have to comment on it. And I said going in, I never wanted this position to be controversial, I wanted it to be educational. I wanted it to be educational for the broadcasters so I can work with them in real time from the studios in L.A. or with Joe [Buck] and Troy [Aikman] in the booth during the playoffs. And I wanted it to be educational for the fans, too — maybe give to them a little bit of an insight on a) what the referee’s looking at under the hood, or b) a little bit about the philosophy behind the rules. And that’s been basically the way it’s been, and I’ve been happy with that aspect of it.”

So you feel you’ve sort of avoided controversy?

“I haven’t gone out of my way to avoid the controversy, but honestly, I said going in I was never going to say — I mean, these are guys, my buds — so I said going in I was never going to say that they blew a call. I was never going to say it was a bad call. When I think it’s incorrect, I will say the call is incorrect, and then I will explain why, and I’ve done that frequently. But that’s not anything that I didn’t do before, when I was on the NFL Network. So that was never uncomfortable to me. I think the officials were a little bit worried. They didn’t know what I might do — if I might end up being more controversial versus educational. And as I see now during the course of the season, they’ve all been appreciative and they’ve all embraced me and think it’s been a good thing for officiating.”

Do you think this is something that other pro leagues will try in the future?

“I think it depends a little bit on the sport. In the NFL right now, fans have such a huge investment in this game — especially with fantasy football — that they want to know the rules. And they deserve to know the rules, and they deserve to know whether the official’s calls are correct or incorrect. And so I think that probably the first thing that’s going to happen is [this] will probably put pressure on other networks to come up with somebody to fill a role like this. Because I have a lot of good friends at the other networks, but clearly Fox and the broadcasters at Fox were more accurate than the other networks this year. But that’s only because I was in their ear all the time. And I don’t think that CBS’s or ESPN’s or NBC’s philosophies are any different — they want their announcers to be right, but yet if you had a chance to read our rulebook you’d know why it’s so difficult to master. I think other networks will probably go this way and try to find a person, and then I do think that if this is deemed to be successful other sports will try to get involved in this too.”

Is there anything that you did in your career that you look back on with regret?

“People ask me if I could change one rule, which would it be? And I’ve said all along — although the league gets really testy when I say it — I don’t like the pass interference rule. I think it’s too punitive. It’s a 50-yard penalty in waiting that could be wrong, could be incorrectly called by the officials, and all of a sudden a team gets a gimme 50 yards. And my complain about it was that you could kick a guy in the teeth and the maximum penalty is 15 yards; you could get a pass down field and get a little jersey pull and get 50. So I just don’t think it’s a good rule — I actually like the college rule better, which maximizes it at 15 yards and doesn’t lead to cheap yardage in my mind.”

Challenges have to be changed, Mike. If you win a challenge, you should always get another. I don’t care if you get eight a game — it’s the official’s fault if he got a call wrong, not the team’s. Why do they cap it at three, even if a coach has gone three-for-three?

“I think those are basically the feeling that most people have. Here’s the deal, though. You have to go back to the old system (between 1986 and 1991) when there were basically unlimited challenges, and all of a sudden you’d get up to six stoppages a game, and in one game there were like 13, which made the whole system implode. Every time you stop the clock for a challenge, it’s gonna be a three-minute delay. So if you get up to eight challenges, that’ll add about a half-hour to a game and the league doesn’t want to do that. ”

But getting it right is more important than the time, isn’t it?

“That is true, and you hate to get caught in that period of time near the end of the fourth quarter where you’re out of challenges and something big happens. And I don’t disagree — I think they should maybe at least consider a fourth if they get three right, but it’s a slippery slope.”