Author Topic: Big 12 refs  (Read 801 times)

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Offline kim carnes

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Big 12 refs
« on: November 17, 2012, 09:48:24 PM »
Trying to eff us.     eff this rough ridin' conference.

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Offline MakeItRain

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Re: Big 12 refs
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2020, 08:36:22 PM »
So Mike DeFee is retiring. He was pretty clearly the best Big 12 Ref. Of course flood aggie fans hate him, not as much as Reggie Smith though. Anyway, here is a long article from the athletic on DeFee.

College football will have a little less beef next season.

Mike Defee, the Big 12 referee jokingly known as “Beef Ref” among fans due to his muscular frame, has retired from on-field officiating to take a job with the NFL to train officials.

College football officiating is a second job for its participants, often just a hobby for the love of the game. Defee is the president of an electrical contracting company near Beaumont, Texas, with more than 500 employees. That’s where he spends most of his time.

The Athletic called him Friday to talk about the news, but also to hear some stories. We don’t often hear the perspective of an official, because their job is generally to stay out of the way. Defee is also a unique guy. He played football through high school but spent seven years as a boxer. A JV assistant coach once ran away from him during a game. He owns a hunting ranch six hours away from home and taught himself to fly a plane so he could get there quicker (more on those stories later). His son, Michael, has also been an official for more than a decade — he is currently in the Southland Conference but did a Big 12 game last year.

So as Defee and his buff arms leave college football, here are stories from Defee.

Defee was close to becoming an NFL official in 2012, but the referee strike delayed that process, and then he was considered too old to get started at that level. He stayed in college football and became a mini celebrity, but he knew he’d be done on the field soon. Then this NFL opportunity came up.

“Well, you know, I had been considering retirement,” he said. “The travel can be exhausting 15 weeks a year, not that the NFL isn’t the same, but the role will be a little bit different. It was a really tough decision because I felt like I still had several good years on the field. Our new supervisor, Greg Burks, who’s a friend of mine I think a lot of, we’ve had the best crew in the conference, probably the best crew in the country for quite some time, and I think he felt like he needed to redistribute some of the talent that had been developed. There’s a lot of work that goes into putting guys together, the crew, the chemistry, the expectations, getting guys to buy into what you want to do. I wasn’t ready to start over, honestly. I knew that I probably wasn’t going to work more than a couple of years anyway. …

“(Former Big 12 official and current NFL officiating executive Walt Anderson) and I talked on and off for a while about if there ever came an opportunity like this. So one day, I met him at Buc-ee’s right after the first of the year. I was on the way to my ranch, and we spent about an hour talking about his vision and what he felt like I could do to help. I had to come to grips with, yeah, I’m gonna come off the field, and I finally made that decision. So I’m looking forward to working with him in the program and trying to help their officiating program.”

In college football, Defee recognized his growing celebrity, especially as people began to notice him off the field over the past few years. It really picked up after the January 2017 national championship game between Clemson and Alabama. He’d share his workout regimen with people, but the attention always felt a little strange to him.

“You know, that was a little bit different. It was a little bit awkward, too,” he said. “Because really, officials are supposed to be just barely seen. So from that standpoint, it was a little bit different. But I will say this: It was a tribute to the guys on my crew, because a referee is very much like an orchestra conductor. You do your best to get everybody coordinated so the music is the best it can be. When your crew is good, the crew gets a lot of attention because of its performance. It trickles to everybody on the crew. So I was the beneficiary. I just happened to be the face of the crew. I just always wanted to make sure that they were getting their fair share, because they were very much responsible for any popularity that I got.”

On the topic of that celebrity, while talking to him in 2018, he shared a story with me about the 2014 Rose Bowl. It highlighted how serious he took impartiality.

“I don’t mind taking pictures with people, provided they’re not dressed in their team’s apparel,” he said. “A number of years ago, I worked the Rose Bowl with Michigan State and Stanford. We were back at the hotel after the game, and a Michigan State fan recognized me and wanted to get a picture with him and his wife. I said I can, but not with (the Michigan State gear). He starts taking off all his clothes. He was down to the last shirt he had, and it had a Spartan logo on his pocket. I pulled him close to me where I was in front and covered that logo with my arm around him, so you couldn’t tell. There wasn’t anything in the picture that was the team.

“He said, ‘Gosh, I never thought about that.’ In the world we live in, we have to think about it, because things can be sent and no one knows the picture was taken after the game. I don’t even work in the Big Ten, but it’s something you have to be conscious of. Whenever I’m working a game … I take the teams and their colors, and I pack everything that’s color-neutral. I don’t wear anything that would allow anyone to think there’s any type of bias. I don’t want to lump all fans together. There are some people, for whatever reason, can make something appear to be something it’s not.”

For football fans, it’s been hard not to notice that refs are in better shape. Ed Hochuli was famous in the NFL for his physique. Then came Defee, who started weightlifting when he was 23 and still does it four times a week. The physical fitness is mostly about being able to keep up with players, but the idea of being image-conscious is also increasing in the ranks.

“Yeah, it really has,” Defee said. “I have seen in the last several years, it’s really noticeable. To see how many guys are in the gym, working out, they customize your uniform, so I think that’s great. I think it’s great for the image of officiating because at the end of the day, we have to put a lot of work in to be able to try to keep up with these young kids, really spectacular athletes. So yeah, I think that’s been a real, a real visible change in the physique of officials. Across the board.”

Defee’s officiating idol is Judge Mills Lane, and that partly comes from his boxing experience. Defee’s father was a champion boxer and trained his son at a young age. Defee has never met Lane, but that respect stems from the way Lane kept fighters under control. Defee understood it as a former boxer, and he tied it to his football experience.

“As a boxing referee, what you’re trying to do is control the action in an unobtrusive manner,” he told me in 2018. “There’s nothing worse than watching a good fight and a referee mar it, breaking fighters up. Knowing when to step in and when not. I’d loved to be a fly on the wall to hear him give his instructions to the fighters in the dressing room. He never had a problem controlling a fight. You always knew who was in charge, but he rarely had to do anything, because of the groundwork he set prior. I try to take that into football officiating.”

(Michael C. Johnson / USA Today)
That came into play this past season during the Red River Showdown, when Defee issued an unsportsmanlike penalty on the entire Texas and Oklahoma teams after a pregame scuffle.

“You know, I can’t say that wasn’t concerned,” he said. “I think you’re always concerned in a rivalry game like that because the game is so big and so meaningful. We’re dealing with younger men and emotions. That’s one thing we work really hard in officiating, trying to maintain control. We don’t want to take anything away from the game. The game is meant to be played on the edge. We want it to be played that way. When it gets past that edge, then it’s our job to pull it back. That’s what I felt like we had to do because had we not done that, I was concerned we weren’t gonna be able to officiate the game. We were gonna be out there just separating players.

“So by doing what we did, it put everyone on notice and it just made them come out and play football. That’s what they did. You hate to have to resort to something like that. I would have never dreamed that I would have had to do that. But I certainly I don’t think I’d do a thing different than what we did that day.”

Defee also stepped out in a public way in last year’s Big 12 Championship Game when he told Baylor head coach Matt Rhule mid-game that quarterback Charlie Brewer should be looked at. Brewer came out of the game and didn’t return after a medical check.

“One of our first responsibilities as a football official is the safety of our players,” Defee said. “I always try to make sure when I’m dealing with them, that I think of how I would want someone to deal with my son. I had had Baylor a few weeks earlier, and the quarterback had a significant hit in that game, I think it was with Texas. So this was probably, I don’t know, two, three weeks later. I’ll tell you, that kid is tough. A fine, young man. He’s tough. On the play a few plays earlier (against Oklahoma), he ran up the middle, and instead of sliding, he initiated contact. There was a significant blow. I don’t think there was any helmet contact there.

“There must have been some lingering effects that you couldn’t see. I just noticed on the field that when I had a conversation with him, something wasn’t quite right. I just went over to Coach Rhule, and to his credit, he just he immediately got the guy out, had him evaluated and took him out. Matt was a class act. I think Dave Aranda will do a good job there. Matt was a great guy. I enjoyed working with him. I hope that he has a successful career in the NFL.”

Defee got into officiating in the 1990s. A golf buddy of his was a high school official and told Defee he should look into it because he loved football. Defee was coaching his son’s Pop Warner team, but once he went to school, Defee signed up.

“I really thought I knew a lot about football,” he told me in 2018. “I was a big fan of the games, high school, college, NFL and I was the typical guy who thought I knew everything about rules. Then when I started officiating, it became real apparent how little I knew, and how important it was for me to start going to clinics and camps to get better. I think because of my age and maturity, I probably advanced in officiating quicker than most. And I got picked up in college football in my sixth year of officiating.”

Defee worked his first Big 12 game in 2005 and became full-time in 2006. As his status grew, he took on a leadership role. At officiating clinics, Defee runs meetings and makes himself available to young officials. He remembers when he was working his way up.

“I probably spend more time with veteran high school officials on how to protect young officials,” he told me in 2018. “I’ll never forget there was a kid in our association — a veteran now — his first high school experience was a JV game. I told the local high school coach, ‘This kid’s brand new. We’re trying to retain these people. If you have concerns or want to vent, call me over and I’ll talk to you. Don’t vent to him.’ Things went good in the first game. The next game, I move him to the sideline, and we have a tight play. One of the assistant coaches went over and ripped him. I saw it from a distance and sprinted over. He saw me and ran from me, tried to hide at the back of the bench. I located (the head coach), pointed out the assistant and read him the riot act, because it was uncalled for. You can say anything you want to me, but you’re not going to say it to a young official.”

Getting yelled at by coaches is part of the job, and perhaps becoming an even bigger part, but Defee felt there was respect both ways in his work. 

“A remarkably good relationship with those guys,” he said of coaches. “I think there was a level of trust and respect. I think they always knew what they were going to get game in game out when they got our crew. I think that that really, really helps. Your reputation is one of those things, it’s earned and you have to go out there and earn it every single game, because all it takes is one bad game to ruin a lot of good work. My relationship with every one of the characters in our league was really, really good. There’s not a coach out there in our league that I ever felt like I had a bad relationship.”

Asked about his favorite memories, the 2017 national championship game comes to mind. That’s where his celebrity really took off. But there are other moments.

“The national championship game was a great experience,” he said. “But I got to work five Big 12 Championship games. Every one of those were memorable. Working in the 100th Rose Bowl, memories of getting to spend some time with Vin Scully, what a prince he is. That was just a tremendous time. There’s just so many. Working at Notre Dame, I remember working the Wisconsin-LSU game up at Lambeau Field, there’s just so many, many memories that were just all good. I mean, there were so few bad memories. The thing that I’ll always remember is all the great times and the great people that I had an opportunity and the privilege to work with. And that’s not just the officials, it’s the coaches and the athletes as well.”

So, about that ranch. Defee loves bow hunting. The ranch is about an hour and a half west of San Antonio, six hours from where he lives in southeast Texas. Eventually, that drive got to be too time-consuming.

“I got tired of driving,” he told me in 2018. “So I learned to fly and bought a plane. It takes me a little over an hour.”

He’s been flying for more than five years. And he’ll get over there more often now.

“The new role in the NFL, it will be a little bit more of a part-time role for me where I will be able to spend a little bit more time there than I had in the past,” he said. “Having a little bit more freedom there, we’ll see where it goes down the road. But I’m really looking forward to the next chapter.”

Officials take a lot of heat from fans and coaches, but they really do it because they love football and want to stay involved. Defee is excited to continue that work in a new role, and fans will look for the next big-armed official to jump out on their screen.

“It’s gonna be hard. I’m gonna miss the guys,” Defee said. “I love the environment in the stadiums and the bands, just love the game. That environment’s really hard to replicate and I will miss that. I’ll miss working with the guys and the coaches. Look, I enjoyed the whole experience. It wasn’t always a bed of roses, but you know that going into this as a football official. You’re gonna do your very best to be fair and impartial, even when no one else thinks that or knows that. You do, and so I’ll miss a lot of that.”