By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs recently decided against retaining Larry Hill, who was hired before last season as a full-time replay official, according to two sources with knowledge of the development. Hill's one-year contract expired last month.
The addition of Hill -- a former referee considered among the best in his profession -- initially was viewed as a typically innovative move by Gibbs: The Redskins were the sole NFL organization with a consultant whose main job was to attend every game and advise the head coach on replay challenges. Nonetheless, the Redskins lost most of their replay challenges, leading to clock mismanagement in certain games. (At one point, after a Nov. 21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins lost five of their first six challenges.)
However, according to one offensive assistant, the setup was flawed because Hill frequently was overruled when he recommended against a challenge. Gibbs publicly conceded unilaterally issuing a few replay challenges that were lost, but never disclosed a breakdown of Hill's decisions.
The Redskins are expected to use a traditional setup, with assistants having heavy input before Gibbs makes a final decision. Gibbs largely hired Hill -- who sat in the coaches' booth watching television feeds -- to avoid assistants becoming emotionally attached to plays.
Gibbs, who is on vacation, as is his staff, until July 25, was unavailable to comment. Hill couldn't be reached to comment.
According to a league source, new Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban intends to hire a replay official with similar duties to Hill's. But Saban -- who has contacted the NFL for a pool of retired officials -- is seeking someone to handle a bigger workload.
Hill's other duties included overseeing referees to work practices; monitoring penalty tendencies of players and meeting with Gibbs's staff to deconstruct calls. Because no other team had hired a former referee in such a capacity -- Hill was an NFL referee the previous five seasons, and worked during the 2004 Super Bowl -- the Redskins received permission from the league office.
While Gibbs was on an 11-year hiatus before returning in 2004, the NFL underwent several changes, including replay challenges. Although the league had an instant replay system during Gibbs's first tenure, coaches weren't allowed to challenge calls. Now, coaches get two replay challenges per game. When ruled correct in challenging, the play is reversed. (Also, if the coach wins both times, he earns a third challenge.) But unsuccessful challenges result in a lost timeout.
Note: FedEx Field on July 28 will host a soccer game between D.C. United and Chelsea of the English Premier League. The game is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.