PHOENIX -- David Coleman seems to be a decent, upstanding right-thinking contributor to the human endeavor. He once served under Colin Powell in the Army, worked at the highest levels of the NFL.
Coleman also knows that his new title gives his credibility the shelf life of an open can of tuna. Being the Pac-12’s vice president of officiating is sure to have its share of perks … and curses.
“You can be great today and be worse or terrible tomorrow,” Coleman said at the league’s spring meetings. “[It changes] from week to week.”
Sometimes less. Check the tuna, pal.
You may have noticed the Pac-12 has had its share of officiating snafus. It may have started with -- but certainly wasn’t limited to -- the then-Pac-10 showdown between Cal and Stanford in 1982.
This is a league that actually promoted the referee from the epic 2006 Oregon-Oklahoma screw-up to coordinator of officials. This is a conference which reportedly saw its most recent coordinator quit because he was sick of the league’s criticism of his officials.
“I think there is some truth to that,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott admitted Wednesday. “The nature of these roles has changed a lot over the years. The pressure, the focus, the command for accountability.”
This is not necessarily a Pac-12 problem. Every fans thinks his/her conference has the world’s worst officials. Just ask them. The occupation has become somewhat of a death dodge -- not in terms of human life, but in terms of reputation.
There’s making the right call. Then there’s making the right call that television shows followed by making a right call with which social media agrees.
This blog from a veteran Pac-12 scribe reads: "Officially the league has a huge [officiating] problem."
It is almost seven years old.
The Pac-12 just seems to have flagged -- or is it flogged? -- itself more often than others. The same line judge who worked “The Play” in 1982 was the video replay guy 24 years later in Oregon-Oklahoma. Ask Bob Stoops about that one.
That referee in that Ducks-Sooners fiasco -- Dave Cutaia -- was eventually rewarded by being named conference officiating supervisor.
Pac-12 officiating is so ripe for parody that it has its own Twitter parody account. Check out @GlassesRef.
That’s the baggage Coleman now inherits from his forebears.
“My gosh,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Wednesday afternoon, “ how can we not be better?”
It says something obvious that the Pac-12 went to such laudable lengths to at least project the impression of competency. Coleman comes to the Pac-12 from the NFL where he was director of officiating since 2010.
Obvious first question: Was he involved in investigating Deflategate?
“No,” he said.
Coleman left the US Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He once processed refugees returning from Vietnam. At age 22, Coleman arrived for entry into the 101st Airborne and found a 34-year-old brigade commander named Colin Powell.
“He took the time to invite us to the officer’s club for a drink on Friday,” Coleman said.
Years later when Powell became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in George H.W. Bush's White House, he looked across the room and didn’t forget what Coleman had become.
Coleman checks all the character and credibility boxes, which makes you wonder why he’d take this latest position.
“I wouldn’t say [I’m a] lighting rod,” he said. “You’re going to have show responsibility, communication. That’s important.”
Who knew that 30 percent of all Division I officials who moved up to the NFL the last two seasons came from the Pac-12? That’s Coleman communicating.
Fans are more likely to remember two years ago. Wisconsin felt like it was screwed out of a chance to win at Arizona State. What’s worse, the Pac-12 essentially didn’t react until Monday after the game. Last year’s Cal-Stanford game was rife with officiating errors, too.
“There is room for improvement,” Scott said of his Pac-12 officials.
In case you didn’t notice, that's an understatement.
The difference -- the Pac-12 hopes -- is Coleman was hired as a full-time employee. A multi-conference consortium pays the Big Ten supervisor. The Big 12 guy, Walt Anderson, splits his time as an NFL official.
David Coleman’s job is not only to evaluate Pac-12 officials but also to clean up their reputation. He’ll also be recruiting and developing officiating prospects. Think of hot minor leaguers pushing for playing time in the majors.
That means Pac-12 officials will have pressure in the moment to get the call right. They’ll also have pressure from below if they don’t.
Coleman will also be overseeing basketball where the league did not distinguish itself two years ago in the Ed Rush situation.
“My perspective is there’s no excuse,” Coleman said.
That stance is no different than a thousand bosses in a thousand companies. Hopefully, Coleman takes accountability to the next level. Publicly available critiques on officials would be nice place to start. The NBA does it and it seems to be working.
That’s the pros. This is college where Coleman and his officials are potentially messing with your school. And if his guys don’t get it right, it’s not only their fault. It’s his fault. It’s the Pac-12’s fault.
And we all know where the conference’s officiating reputation stands at the moment.