Peter King: The Dean Blandino Mess

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    The Dean Blandino Mess

    Peter King

    If the NFL knew vice president of officiating Dean Blandino was going to leave for a TV job—which Ian Rapoport and Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Friday—there’s a strong chance owners would not have voted for centralized replay last month, with Blandino making the calls from the league’s New York officiating command post. Clearly, a big part of voting for centralized replay was the strength of Blandino, and how good a media face he was for officiating.

    He ran the beehive of an officiating command center, the size of a large Manhattan studio apartment, with 82 TV monitors and 21 employees following the games, calmly and authoritatively. He earned the trust of the league, and the officials.

    Blandino rose from never being on the field as an official to lording over the best football officials in the world. “You ask the officials … and they trust Dean,” Rich McKay, the chair of the rules-making NFL Competition Committee, told me last month. “He’s very detailed. We’re fortunate to have Dean Blandino as our head of officials.”

    So why didn’t the NFL make sure to have him under contract so he couldn’t walk away to do TV? That’s the question many around the league were asking after this bolt out of the blue happened Friday. It was such a surprise that three prominent club officials over the weekend said they hadn’t heard about Blandino and TV until they heard the news Friday.

    And though it wasn’t a shock to some of his friends, and some in the league office knew Blandino would want to do TV one day, they didn’t think one day was now. This was not an active rumor, at all, at the league meetings, when the centralized replay vote passed in a landslide, moving the final calls on reviewed plays from the referees on the field to the Blandino team in New York. I can tell you with certainty that the Competition Committee was blindsided by the news on Friday.

    No one can blame Blandino. If, as Mike Florio reported, Blandino leaves for FOX to supplement his smooth predecessor, Mike Pereira, as a second voice interpreting calls, he’ll be doing a job with far less pressure for significantly more money. As one of Blandino’s friends told me Saturday: “Dean’s 45, married, and has two children under 5.

    He’s probably working 80 hours a week in-season at the NFL. That’s not really good for a father of two young kids.” Another friend said Blandino has long fancied himself a future TV guy. Being home for dinner five nights a week, and working 50 hours a week in the fall instead of far more, and having much of the off-season off—and making more money? A logical decision.

    Still, there’s no logical person to take his place. NFL execs have a big problem on their hands. I’m assuming they tried to negotiate a deal with Blandino and failed. They should have tried harder. So what does the league do now?

    This job requires a public figure comfortable in front of the camera and on social media. Blandino was just that. Al Riveron, Blandino’s lieutenant and a former referee himself, is not regarded as comfortable with that part of the job.

    He could still be considered for it, but after Carl Johnson never could get comfortable on TV and video as Pereira’s first heir, I would expect the league to cast a wider net. The three most prominent candidates—my guess—among current officials are three referees: Gene Steratore, calm and comfortable with a mike on; Clete Blakeman, a Nebraskan with a good presence and very well-liked by the league; and Bill Vinovich, who while on health leave from on-field duties worked in the New York command center for almost two years.

    The NFL could also consider Mike Carey, who had a shaky TV tenure as CBS’ rules analyst, or Terry McAulay, whose side job is as supervisor of officials for the American Athletic Conference.

    Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the TV-comfy officials emerged as media voice for, say, ESPN soon either. ESPN has to look at FOX and say, “We’ve got high-profile college and NFL games, as FOX does. They’ve got two officiating experts now?”

    ESPN doesn’t have an in-studio rules expert either Saturday or Sunday, and the absence seems notable now. Which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if they added a smart and cool voice to the studio shows, at least.

    But this is a fire the NFL’s going to have put out, and soon. It’s a bad look after a bold March step to centralize replay.

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