The CFL announced today that they'll be introducing position coaches for officials this year, adding four positions to their officiating staff. Famed former referee Jake Ireland will serve as the referee coach, while Bill Wright is the umpire coach, Brent Buchko will handle the officials who work the line of scrimmage and Al McColman will work with the deep officials. All have a notable amount of experience officiating in the area they're working with. CFL director of officiating Tom Higgins said in the league's release the plan is designed to help each individual group of officials receive specific coaching on how to get better.
"Much like a football team has a quarterback coach, our officials will now have a referee coach," Higgins said. "The different officiating positions on the field each have very different responsibilities. Now with position coaches we will have a consistent voice coaching our officials in the four areas we have designated."
This isn't a particularly conventional move, but from this perspective, it's a great one. It might have been inspired by Higgins' background as a CFL coach, as football staffs tend to have a wide variety of position-specific coaches who have particular backgrounds in the positions they're instructing. One prominent example is new B.C. Lions' defensive line coach Randy Melvin, who was named a NCAA Division II All-American during his playing career on the line and has coached the position at NCAA schools such as Eastern Illinois, Purdue, Rutgers and Temple, as well as with NFL teams like the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns. Other notable position coaches include Hamilton receivers coach Tim Kearse, who played in both the NFL and CFL and has coached in the CFL for the last decade, and former CFL all-star Mike Walker, in his first season as Saskatchewan's defensive line coach. The position coach system makes plenty of sense, as guys with those kinds of backgrounds can certainly use their experience to help develop the players under their tutelage in a personal, hands-on way that would be difficult for a head coach to do across the board. It sounds like that's what the league will be going for here with the referee position coaches, and that could work out very well.
The individuals the CFL has tapped also seem like a solid group. Ireland (pictured at right above, doing a coin flip in a 2002 Ottawa-Hamilton game between comedian Martin Short and Renegades' centre Carl Coulter) will be familiar to many CFL fans from his 30-season tenure as a referee and his recent work as the league's lead replay official, while Wright has worked as the league's officiating supervisor and has been around the CFL for 49 years. Buckho has done a lot of work on the lines over the years, and was the head linesman at the 2006 Grey Cup (which, at that point, was the sixth Grey Cup he'd worked in nine CFL seasons), while McColman's worked over 600 CFL games in over 34 seasons. With that kind of experience, they should be able to help younger officials with everything from positioning and mechanics to rule interpretations. Officiating isn't an easy job at any level, and the CFL brings its own particular challenges thanks to the amount of players on the field, the frequent motion and the wide variety of things to watch for. Providing position-specific leadership should help improve the quality of officiating in the league, and that's a goal just about everyone would agree is valuable.