Milwaukee Talks: Former NFL referee Bill Carollo
After spending 20 seasons as a National Football League official, Bill Carollo is enjoying a quieter, gentler September this year.
He's still very busy, but he doesn't have to worry about being sideswiped by a hulking linebacker or angering 80,000 rabid fans with a controversial call.
Carollo hung up his whistle and striped shirt after the AFC Championship game last year, but he's hardly out of the game. The 57-year-old Milwaukee businessman is working as a supervisor of officials for the Big Ten, Mid-America, Missouri Valley and Pioneer Conferences.
"I've been busy, but it's been a nice change and transition," said Carollo, a Brookfield Central High School graduate who was a standout quarterback in college at UW-Milwaukee.
"Coming off the field is always difficult, whether you are a player, a coach or an official. When you've put 30 or 35 years in on the field, it becomes part of your life there. But, there is always a time and a place to move on. I wanted to do it in the right way."
We caught up with Carollo recently to talk about his new job, his old job and the state of officiating.
OMC: What was your typical weekend like as an NFL referee?
BC: It's a pretty busy weekend. In perspective, it's really a whole week. You have to arrive 24 hours before the game. If it's a noon start on Sunday, we start our meetings at noon on Saturday. As the referee, you may call a meeting a lunch to get started. You go six or seven hours on Saturday reviewing last week's game, reviewing the two teams, reviewing a written test or some issues that the league would put out. You spend 45 minutes to an hour looking at that.
Then, you go out for dinner as a crew, which is just about mandatory. Everybody goes out, including the replay person. You have breakfast the next morning, then you may take in a church service. Sometimes, we'd have our own service. Security picks you up at the hotel, you arrive at the stadium 2 1/2 to 3 hours before the game. Generally speaking, if it's a noon game, we would not meet Sunday morning.
You work the game. After the game, you more than likely go home, unless its a late game and you stay over. For late games you take the video -- the coaches' tape or at least the TV tape, go back to the hotel and break down the game and look at plays we may have missed.
OMC: That's a pretty busy weekend.
BC: It is pretty well packed, all the way through. Then, we start the whole different process. On Monday, you call the league office go over a handful of plays they may get a call about. You start breaking down the coaches' tape and take a look at it. The game is reviewed by independent people. By Wednesday, you get the final report card. We'd have a conference call on Tuesday and Wednesday to review what the league was saying about the game.
OMC: How many mistakes did they usually find?
BC: They tell us that 3.8 mistakes is the average per NFL game, but there are situations where you may have the right call, but maybe that official was out of position and it was considered an incorrect mechanic.
OMC: That's a big time commitment, especially since you all hold down other jobs. Do you think the NFL needs, as many players say, to have full-time officials?
BC: Eventually, football will have full-time officials. Unfortunately, it will probably take a major mistake in a game -- maybe a playoff game or Super Bowl -- for that to happen.
The league's argument is that you only work one game per week. What are you going to do with the rest of the time? To stay sharp, we've talked about doing more with the teams and the players, teaching them the rules. Then, looking at video and staying in shape. It may not be 24-7 for seven days a week, but when you put in 30 or 35 hours at a minimum and that's only (restricted) because of family and another job.
OMC: I've heard comments from administrators at various levels of sports talking about the shortage of good, young officials. Is that something that concerns you?
BC: There is certainly a shortage of good young officials. The guys that do get started, I they think may funnel their way into coaching. The likelihood of them staying more than three years is slim. It's a problem of training and keeping their interest. There is also a little bit of an anxious feeling today -- guys like to move up faster than what they should.
I moved up fast. I was working in the Big Ten in my 20s. I think that's still the youngest age (of anybody who) ever worked in the Big Ten. I believe you can work at a pretty young age, but you do have to pay your dues. A lot of times, it takes a lot of mistakes Pop Warner and junior varsity -- you want to get those mistakes out of your system before you move up to a state championship game or Wisconsin college game.
OMC: What will you miss most about being on the field?
BC: I don't regret my decision at all. What I'll miss is the challenge to find out how good you can really be. When you walk out on the field, everyone is kind of against the official. You don't know what's going to happen every play for 155 plays. The league average is 3.8 mistakes per game. You want to see how good you can be. That test is probably the one thing I'll miss the most.
OMC: Last question -- is it true that you could you call holding on every play?
BC: You can call holding on a lot more plays than we call today. Do you want it called every play. We get real technical with wide receivers and defensive backs, but not with the offensive line. They are always grabbing and holding.
My favorite Bill Carollo moment was December 28, 2003. The packers were beating the Broncos, 24-3, when Ahman Green ripped off a 98-yard touchdown run. Favre was so excited he was sprinting up the field and saw Carollo. He diverted his sprint, ran right to Bill, and slapped him on the butt as hard as he could-then ran away. Carollo just stood there, smiling, for about 20 seconds. I looked at my friend and yelled..."that's our ref from Shorewood!"
Mr. Carollo speaks the truth about their being a dearth of young officials. Every time you go to even a high school game, the officials are the same guys that were calling games when I was in high school. Some of that may be because those guys just don't give it up, but I feel like there aren't adequate younger replacements, too. It sounds like some entity like The University of Phoenix should start a "football official" short program.
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