After an offseason in 2018 that saw the NFL lose four referees to retirement, it looks like the exodus might continue in 2019.
The NFL has announced that Pete Morelli and Walt Coleman have both decided to retire. To send them out in style, the NFL is having the two men co-officiate the Pro Bowl, which will be played on Jan. 27 in Orlando, Florida.
News of Coleman's pending retirement actually leaked out during the season, which is why multiple players paid their respects to him during his final regular season game on Dec. 30. In a twist of fate, Coleman's final assignment came in New England, which was fitting because that's where he basically became a household name.
In January 2002, Coleman was the referee on the field during the Patriots' infamous "tuck rule" game against the Raiders in the divisional round of the playoffs. If you need a quick refresher on the game, you can see that below.
The 16-13 win over the Raiders basically kickstarted the Patriots dynasty as it propelled New England to its first Super Bowl win in franchise history. It also made Coleman an enemy of Raiders fans everywhere, which is probably why he never officiated a Raiders game again after that.
During the Patriots' 38-3 win over the Jets in Week 17, Brady actually went over to Coleman to shake his hand after the game.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft also gave Coleman a game ball.
Looks like Robert Kraft presented a game ball to Walt Coleman, who is retiring. Just walked into official’s room with a ball and a camera. Came out empty handed.— Tom Leyden (@TomLeyden) December 30, 2018
With an NFL officiating career that spanned 30 years, Coleman was the most senior official in the league.
As for Morellii, he's retiring after 22 seasons as an official. After starting his career as a back judge, Morelli was promoted to referee in 2003. Although Morelli made it through most of his career without inciting any sort of major controversy, Eagles fans did call for the NFL to ban him from officiating Philadelphia games after a game in October 2017 where his crew made history. In a 28-23 win over the Panthers, the Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards while the Panthers were only penalized one time for one yard.
With Morelli and Coleman now hanging up their whistles for good, that means the NFL has now lost six referees to retirement over the past 12 months, which is notable because the NFL only had a total of 17 lead referees during the 2018 regular season. That means in a one-year period, the league will now have been forced to replace more than 33 percent of its referees.
During the 2018 offseason, Gene Steratore, Ed Hochuli, Jeff Triplette and Terry McAulay all retired. Steratore is now the rules analyst for CBS, and you'll be able to see him on Feb. 3 because he'll be in the television booth with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo for Super Bowl LIII.