The judge of the field

Those who serve as officials for various sports have a thankless job. Making a good call for one team often means a bad call for the other, so throughout the game everyone is guaranteed to disagree on an official’s decision. Fans, coaches and players all have an opinion but it is the unblinking eye of the official that knows better than anyone.
Coastal Point •SUBMITTED: Frank Miranda (second from right) and his crew before officiating a playoff game at Shippensburg University.Coastal Point •SUBMITTED:
Frank Miranda (second from right) and his crew before officiating a playoff game at Shippensburg University.

Local builder Frank Miranda has served as a football official for most of his life, at nearly every level of the sport. It wasn’t long after he started that he knew that he had a head for the game.

Miranda took the reins as the head official in a Pop Warner game. despite arriving late, because he felt more comfortable with the rules than his younger whistle-blowers.

From Pop Warner, Miranda moved up to varsity football, where he served for 14 years, and later advanced to the collegiate level.

Miranda has the privilege of serving as a line judge for Division I-AA, II and III football games and has been a part of postseason referee crews. Miranda served as line judge for a Division II playoff game against West Chester and Shippensburg.

Only the best of officials become a part of a playoff crew but Miranda’s crew, like others, have it down to a science.

“We (line judges) give each other signals across the field to how many players are on our side of the line,” said Miranda. “If we both don’t have three men on the line then there is an illegal formation and we have a problem.”

Having a strong knowledge of formations makes an official’s life a breeze but one must also have a working understanding of all the rules.

“You have to have a solid understanding of the rules,” said Miranda. “It’s not just black and white; you have to know the spirit and intent of the rules as well.”

Miranda mentioned that as an official, one can’t call every single penalty they see — especially if it has no bearing on the play.

“If there’s a hold on the right side of the line and the offense runs a quick toss to the left, then I won’t call the penalty because it has no impact on the play,” said Miranda. “Also, coaches will complain that a defensive lineman’s hand is in the neutral zone but I explain to them that their players don’t line up perfect either. In other words, I don’t call the penalty either way.”

Coaches can be very demanding of not only their players and themselves but of the officials. Miranda explained that appeasing a coach is simple but can take its toll.

“College coaches can be pretty intense,” said Miranda, “because their jobs and the program depend on their win-loss record. So when they challenge you, you have to have the right answers. An official has to talk to the coaches and get them the information they need — like who the penalty was on. Coaches look for consistency. As long as you are fair with them and give them the information that they need, then they’re happy.”

Former New York Jets Head Coach and current Robert Morris signal caller Joe Walton is particularly ferocious towards the officials, according to Miranda.

“He’s one of those coaches that wants every call to go his way,” said Miranda. “You (as an official) have to be relaxed. You can’t match their outburst.”

Robert Morris travels to Central Connecticut State this season. As the line judge on the visitors side, Miranda will surely get an earful if he isn’t decisive or doesn’t make the call Walton likes.

When Miranda isn’t taking coaches’ verbal abuse, he may be subject to incidental physical abuse.

“At a St. Valparaiso and St. Francis game I got hit in the face with someone’s facemask near a pileup,” said Miranda.

Sometimes, and much to the chagrin of coaches and fans, officials have to make delayed decisions because the play happens so fast that they have to replay it in their heads before making the call.

In a game last week, Miranda made a controversial delayed touchdown call that turned out to be the correct call.

“It took me a second to replay the play in my mind before I made the call because the ball carrier fell at about the 2-yard line but he fell on the opposing player so his knee never hit the ground and his feet kept pushing,” explained Miranda. “Our games are reviewed and my referee said he looked at that play for 10 minutes but said he didn’t have a problem with my call.”

In fact, 150 plays or penalty situations from throughout the season are compiled onto one instructional tape at officiating clinics and Miranda’s crew had eight plays that were highlighted.

At the collegiate level, officials are more prone to give players and coaches leeway but at the high school level there has been a movement to clean the sport up, according to Miranda.

“They (high school officials) are trying to be stricter,” said Miranda. “There is no tolerance for swearing or fighting and there has been a movement to clean up the sport for the past few years.”

Miranda’s officiating philosophy has been to catch the dirty stuff and eliminate any advantage a player may try to gain due to a rule violation — but let the teams play. Regardless, officials can’t see everything and often times penalize only those whom they see violate the rules.

Miranda said he probably won’t move up to Division I or professional football but may become an observer one day if his body is unable to handle the rigors anymore.

His dedication and love for the game goes on unmatched, which is the only reason he could continue this tough life as a football official.