Former NFL VP of officiating and current FOX Sports analyst Mike Pereira made a great deal of news this week with a column that ripped ex-NFL coach and current Monday Night Football broadcaster Jon Gruden for Gruden's assertion that the league's current officiating crews are not calling certain helmet-to-helmet penalties consistently.
Calling Gruden a "loudmouth" and a "blowhard" who "doesn't know what he's talking about," Pereira took off after Gruden in a way that could certainly indicate that in his new role with Fox, he's looking to settle a few old scores with coaches he didn't like when he was an official and a supervisor for officials.
I am not a fan of Gruden's. Not today, not yesterday, not when I worked for the NFL and not when I was working on the field as a side judge. He was a loudmouth as a coach who constantly disrespected officials and he is a blowhard in the broadcast booth who spouts off when he doesn't know what he is talking about.
I respect his knowledge about the X's and O's when it comes to coaching and playing the game of football, but I have very little respect for him when it comes to officiating and his knowledge of the rules.
Pereira was specifically angry about Gruden's interpretation of two calls made by Jeff Triplette's crew in the Monday Night Football game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons (Note: We've already detailed a fairly grievous mistake made by Triplette in that game). First, a call against Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints receiver Marques Colston. "I don't know," Gruden said after the flag. "Going to get Lofton for spearing. I'd throw the ball every play if that's a penalty."
Then, a no-call on a hit by Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on an incomplete pass from Matt Ryan to Reggie Kelly. "I don't know what the difference is than the one on Lofton," Gruden said. "If Lofton's penalty was 15 yards, then that's 15 yards. I just don't understand how games are being officiated."
Gruden didn't know the difference between the two hits. Well, let me help. Lofton's was helmet-to-helmet, while Jenkins' hit was shoulder to back. Duh! Lofton's hit was clearly a foul and the hit by Jenkins was not. That was why Lofton's penalty was 15 yards and the Jenkins hit wasn't penalized at all. Gruden said he doesn't understand how games are being officiated? Correctly and consistently in this case. But that's OK, Jon. Just throw the officials under the bus when you don't know the rules.
Hmm. "Duh!" How very professional! And here's the point that Pereira is intentionally obstructing, as he often does — he will use what he interprets to be one correct call to try and bury several blown calls. Most officials don't understand the current roughness rules or how to call them. We know that because there are so many players fined for hits that are not flagged, and for the wide splits in penalties among crews. One need look no further than last year's Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns game, in which linebacker James Harrison laid out receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and wasn't flagged either time. We see enough shoulder hits called as helmet hits and vice versa to have real and legitimate questions about how officials are calling these games.
And yet, according to Pereira, if we dare question these things, we're going to get blasted in his column. That obvious bias — which also shows up frequently in his Twitter account when he's trying to tell viewers that they didn't see what they actually saw — leaves even more questions about Pereira's ability, consistency, and trustworthiness as an analyst. He should have used Gruden's questions as an opportunity to discuss those penalties and how they're called. But no -- he preferred to deal in elementary-school insults, and his column was bereft of any real insight.
Just to note, this isn't the first time Pereira has used his column to condescend.
When San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had a perfectly legitimate question about the way a false start was interpreted, Pereira accused Harbaugh of seeking face time and media attention (evidently, he's never been on one of Harbaugh's conference calls) and left him with this bon mot:
After watching this game, here's some advice for young Mr. Harbaugh: We're only halfway through the season — take some deep breaths and enjoy the ride.
Now, ask yourself this — had Pereira said that to Harbaugh when he was a side judge (you read that right; Pereira was never actually an NFL head official), would he be right to expect censure from the NFL? We'd certainly hope so. Why are things different now that Pereira can hide behind his "analyst" position?
Did Gruden leave many friends in the officiating business when he left coaching for the broadcasting booth after the 2008 season? Most likely not. He could be caustic, rude, and insulting to officials when he roamed the sidelines for the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he didn't really help himself in that department when he had those jobs.
But Pereira has a responsibility as an analyst to take the higher road. Gruden didn't rip Triplette personally in his rants about how penalties are called — he simply said that he thought (and what a lot of other people think) about the state of officiating today. Thus, Pereira's pointed personal attacks on Gruden negated any valid point he might have had to make. He seemed more like one of the talking heads on any number of totally biased political shows on either side of the equation than what he was hired to be — a trusted expert who would discern and explain what was going on with the rules in ways that other people can't.
Allow us to give you some advice, Mike, in a way you might be able to understand. You've been wrong more than once when you endeavor to explain the rules on Fox broadcasts (your attempts to explain college rules have been especially disastrous), and your stint as the "redeemer of officiating" for the Pac-12 was an absolute joke. You've also flip-flopped on the Tuck Rule and pass interference, which gives your current opinions even less weight. Given your track record and history, you'd do very well to shut up and bone up on the rulebooks you claim to know backward and forward.
By Pereira's own standards, that passes as professional analysis. By ours, it goes a bit over the line, but when in Rome…
It's time for Fox to lay down the law to Pereira, because the job he was hired to do is an important one. He needs to be told to put the agendas away and focus on the job, or they'll find someone else who will.