The Wisdom of Dan Louie...

Mechanics

Mechanics are the most important, concrete, method of self evaluation.  They also demonstrate our poise, professionalism, and commitment to the game.  Both the Federation and the NCAA have manuals which outline the best ways to ensure that we are in proper position to make the correct calls a majority of the time and to sell our judgment as sound.  While there may be some minor deviations the manuals MUST be adhered to if we are to adequately enforce the rules of engagement. 

You have probably noticed by now that my approach to the game is much like a spiders web.  I have ten points which appear separate and yet all weave together and intertwine. Many of my individual preferences overlap into several of my points.  I break mechanics into unnamed categories.  The first is working on my mechanics as outlined in the manuals.  I look to the mechanics from a perspective of what will put me in the best position to rule and create a comfort zone which creates the illusion of professionalism. 

My first concern is to have a good field of vision. I want to have an unobstructed view of any action which may fall into my zone.  As a wing official I believe the sideline is the best place to start...note, I said start.  This allows me to see all the action on the field without worrying about players getting behind me.  It also ensures that the play is coming at me and I donít have to be preoccupied with backing up and wondering if I can run backwards and remain on my feet!  Now if the ball is placed on the far hash I may come in to the numbers but I never want to be closer than 10 yards to any player...obviously this is not the case in NCAA as we have clear guidelines about starting on the sidelines. 

As a ref I want to set up so that I can see tackle to tackle and be on the QBís throwing arm side.  I donít like to get outside the tackles because if the action rolls away from me I am already out of the play and unable to properly see the action as it develops.  

While field of vision is important I also want to move fluidly and with purpose. While I start on the sidelines I want to close briskly to the end of the action AFTER the action is over.  Donít be to quick to get in there as you may get caught up in fumble, an extraordinary athletic move which keeps the runner on his feet, or miss dead ball fouls.  I trail the play parallel to the sideline and then cut a 90 degree angle and move directly to the dead ball spot.  I prefer this tactic because it keeps my field of vision wide, enabling me to see more than if I am angling or sauntering.  I mentioned in earlier postings that being lackadaisical is like telling everyone I donít care. Close with your head up and on a swivel. You have the spot in your mind, donít focus so much on that small area that I also never run by players to get to a spot, this is when we miss dead ball action away from the ball. 

I have noted over the years that some officials seem to be overly close to the play.  They think that close means good mechanics and hustle.  I tend to subscribe to the philosophy that I want to be close enough to rule but not so close that I am in the play itself.  Trail and rule.  I like to be about 5-8 yards behind the runner from the flank position.  This implies that I also have read the play situation properly...pass versus run.  We all have been taught to read the tackles....if they fire out and downfield I think run; if they retreat then I read pass.  I also factor in the situation; down, distance, time, and team tendencies.  When I misread I adjust accordingly.  If I read pass and they run, I slow down and let the play to come to me.  If I read run and they pass I move my butt to get into the best position.  

Goal lines...inside the 7 I begin thinking about the goal line and I move to protect it.  I like to be on the goal about 2-3 yards outside the pylon as I feel this gives me the most advantageous position to rule without being caught up in the players.  Again, we should be on the goal waiting for the play not trailing in this situation.  I want to be able to see the relationship between the ball and the goal...it is the most important line we have.  

Dead ball...an area in which many of us are remiss.  I toss the ball underhand when relaying and I don't worry about the new ball until I am confident that all action has ceased. I also use this time to check my sidelines. I want to make certain that I have the proper room in which to work and that it is clear of everyone except those who are LEGALLY entitled to be there.  I talk to coaches and then I administer warnings.  My personal feeling is that officials who are lax in this area are sending a negative message.  It erodes our image of professionalism and control. Itís the little things which separate the good officials from the average ones. 

I jog to new positions, never walk. I also note the time, distance and down as I feel these items are all of our responsibilities and not left to just one official.  I want to be aware of the ball.  Too often we pretend that we are so focused on our area that we donít know status of the ball.  I want to know ball status.  I may not know if there is a fumble away from me but I want to know that it is a run.  Being wide gives me the advantage of more total game awareness. 

Whistle control is vital. The whistle does not kill the ball, unless it is inadvertent, it merely indicates that action is now over.  The rules kill the ball. 

Sidebar  when coaches scream that there was no whistle I ask them a simple question. ďso if your player is laying on the ground and there is no whistle itís okay for the defense punish him?Ē  Their silence affirms that they know what is right.  

I seldom echo a whistle.  I donít like to call what I havenít seen.  You run the risk of echoing a phantom whistle from the stands and we know where that leads.  Also, donít be in a hurry to rule.  I never kill the play until I see the runner down with the ball. If his back is turned, or I am screened out I merely wait and let the action speak for itself.  Use discretion when marking the ball.  I donít like to extend a foot, I prefer to indicate with up-field foot by subtlety extending it no more than a foot length in front of my other foot.  If the Umpire takes the spot of the other official I gently move to echo that spot. This offering is dryer than others but then mechanics , after all, are mechanical!  Officials who concentrate on rules or mechanics alone will never be excellent officials. We need to emphasize both equally. 

Here, then, is my check list for Mechanics: 

1.       Maintain a good field of vision start on sideline move with control, authority, and purpose

2.       Study the manual two-three hours a week during season one hour week during off season observe other officials to support or change my method

3.       Read game situation time down distance tendencies key off tackles

4.       Dead ball - monitor sideline keep sideline clear of unnecessary traffic talk with coaches requesting cooperation sideline warning donít wait until the end of the fourth quarter-if they are there now it is because I let them entire game begin on sideline check down indicator move hand down indicator AFTER box has set keep eyes on field as much as possible

5.    Goal line - start thinking about it when inside the ten move quickly to goal at snap communicate with side officials to ensure we are all on the same page. delay TD signal to allow mental process

6.     Bean bag drop - do not toss. We need the yard line not the exact spot.

7.     Body language keep head up keep head on swivel

8.    Be aware of the ball know if pass or run adjust when necessary

9.     Whistle control blow when certain ball is dead see the ball before ruling do not echo another whistle unless absolutely needed.

10.   Do not exaggerate movements mark spot indiscreetly adjust to crew