25 Great Officials

Reprinted with permission from Referee Magazine

How do you define “greatness”?

Players and coaches can be stacked up by their playing stats or win-loss records. For officials it’s not that simple. Sure, you could take a look and see how many championship games an official has worked, but how much of a measuring stick is that? For officials, our greatest impact comes when we earn the respect and admiration of our peers, when it’s clear we’ve had a lasting impact on the industry of officiating through our mentoring, training and the examples we set. There are a lot of great officials in the world. Most were great locally and never received the national recognition they probably deserved. Some were so great they transcended their chosen sport and are admired throughout the community of officials. In honor of NASO’s 25th anniversary this year, Referee chose 25 referees and umpires from the past 25 years who we absolutely think fall into the “great” category, and we asked them to choose one other official — any sport, any level — whom they admire and respect, someone each of them would consider a great official, and tell us why.

Jim TunneyRetired MLB umpire Doug Harvey on Jim Tunney

One of the great officials in my lifetime is (retired NFL referee) Jim Tunney. He and I worked basketball together in what used to be called the Pac-8 when Johnny Wooden was coaching UCLA in the early ’60s. Jim became one of the greatest football referees the NFL has ever seen, but other than my brother, Nolan, he was the best basketball referee I ever worked with. I copied some of my timing in baseball from Jim; we used that timing when we worked basketball together. He ought to be the first referee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the way he represented that league. It’s asinine there are no officials in that hall. Jim meant something to me. We’ve been friends for almost 50 years.

Retired NFL referee Jim Tunney on Jim Tunney Sr.

My father, (the late college football referee) Jim Tunney Sr. officiated from 1929-47. The last game he worked was the Rose Bowl. He had a great style. What I most remember is his attentiveness during a play. He was always on top of things. I used to go to games with him. One time he came to me at halftime and said, “Watch this running back. He’s good.” It was Jackie Robinson. He didn’t really encourage me to go into officiating, but he didn’t discourage me. But I moved along more quickly because he was so well respected.