June 3, 2017 | By Jarrett Bell
Mike Pereira chuckled when asked whether he missed his old job.
"I think I can do without those 80-hour work weeks during the season,” Pereira, who served nine years as the NFL’s director of officiating, told USA TODAY Sports this week.
He left the rigors and, well, perks of overseeing the game officials to become the high-profile rules analyst for Fox in 2010 – and now often second-guesses the officials on national TV.
"There’s a shelf life with that job,” added Pereira, 67. “I think I took it right to the edge. The loss of sharpness was evident. In my prime, I could cite the page where you could find something in the rule book, the article and even exceptions to the rules, without looking at rule book. Toward the end, I had to think about it.”
Sure, it was a loaded question. Pereira was speaking from San Sebastian, Spain, a coastal resort town in the Basque Country, winding down from an extended getaway. Clearly in vacation mode, it was after 10 p.m. local time, and he still hadn’t made it to the restaurant for dinner. The intense, highly-scrutinized regimen of his old job was way in the rear-view mirror.
Yet here was the purpose of the reminder: If there’s anyone who can sense the challenge confronting Alberto Riveron, recently named the NFL’s new director of officiating, it’s Pereira.
"It’s the second-hardest job in the league,” Pereira declared. “I’ll give Roger (Goodell) the toughest job. As Commissioner, he deals with everything, plus 32 owners. But it’s hard. There’s so much volatility. You don’t make friends in that post. You make enemies.”
The frequency of turnover in the position is hardly lost on Pereira. Riveron, 57, will be the third new officiating chief in eight years, following Dean Blandino and Carl Johnson, raising questions about the organizational consistency. Through Pereira’s final season, the NFL had just three officiating directors – including Jerry Seeman and Art McNally – in 41 years.
Blandino, who headed the department for four years, is a tough act to follow.
"A lot of people in the league will miss Dean,” Periera said. “It makes it very hard for Al. He’s got size 16’s he’s got to fill.”
Blandino, who reportedly will soon too work for a network, earned tremendous respect despite having never worked on the field as a game official – which each other director dating back to McNally had on their resume. The relationships that Pereira developed in communicating with the teams and his ability to explain controversial calls to media and fans – which included a vibrant social media presence – were essential to his role.
Now Riveron will be the ultimate authority as senior vice president of officiating, the transition aided by his years as Blandino’s right-hand man.
"The jury is out,” Pereira said. “How he will relate to the coaches, general managers, the media, will be so important.”
In promoting Riveron, the league restructured the officiating hierarchy. Although Riveron is responsible for the entire department, Russell Yurk was also named vice president of instant replay and administration and Wayne Mackie became vice president of evaluation and development. The moves appear to ease some of the burden of responsibility for Riveron.
"Dean was going to do that if he stayed,” Pereira said. “That plan was already in the works. The job has become so much bigger.”
It’s not only tougher, Pereira added, because the league is implementing centralized instant replay this year. Exposure has added to the pressure.
"Social media amplifies everything,” Pereira said. “I don’t think there are more mistakes, but more people are talking about it. Before there might have been a mistake somewhere and it’s, ‘Well, nobody’s going to see it.’ Not anymore. Now a mistake in Buffalo is tweeted by a fan and it’s everywhere. That makes it a lot more difficult.
"There’s more pressure nowadays to be perfect, which is impossible.”
That’s why Riveron’s ability to establish himself as a credible voice in addressing the controversial calls will be a crucial subplot during the coming season.
This, while every replay decision will flow through the nerve center at NFL headquarters in New York.
"I get what they’re doing,” Pereira said. “They are trying to speed it up.”
But Pereira is no fan of centralized replay, sensing that on-field officials are now less empowered.
"I’m kind of in one of those camps where I feel like it hurts officiating,” he said. “It gives them a bit of a crutch.”
When replay was re-installed in 1999, the prevailing sentiment allowed the calls to remain under the power of the referee, who would review the plays on a monitor at field level. This season, referees will still be able to review the plays on a tablet while in communication with headquarters, but the ultimate decisions will be out of their hands.
Officials have traditionally been viewed as an entity that, while paid by the NFL, operated in a zone that was separate from the teams and the league office. Now Pereira senses the lines are blurred with rulings to come from league-paid employees who spend their weeks at headquarters.
"There’s no buffer now,” Pereira said.
That, too, he senses, will add to the pressure of the man now in the tough job that burned him out.