Laird Hayes, an SCGA member through Mesa Verde CC, is currently in his 18th season as an official for the National Football League. He took a few minutes Monday to talk with the SCGA about the recent NFL controversies, just 24 hours after returning to the field for his first game of the 2012 season.
What was it like for you during the lockout?
It was unsettling not knowing what was going on! But we knew a long time ago that the league would probably lock us out, but we found out officially in May. We knew that as a group we needed to be patient. We have a unique skill set, I’ve been training a long time for this job, and not everyone can do what we can do. You can’t just throw random guys out there and expect them to succeed. We all kind of figured it wouldn’t turn out too well for the league. But we knew that eventually it would come to the end. At the end of that Monday night game last week [when a controversial call cost the Packers the game], it seemed like it might be what the league needed to give us a fair deal.
I think it helped the league realize that what people have come to expect is a game fairly played. When a foul is committed, it’s called. That game turned out to get things moving in the right direction.
How did you get started officiating?
I was hired by the NFL 18 years ago, but prior to that I was working with the Pac-10. After I applied they started scouting me, watching my games. When you become a finalist they have you go to New York and interview, which includes a psychological exam and full background check. I had done some basketball and baseball officiating before then, but when I got hired in 1976 at Orange Coast College I thought football would be the most fun, which it turns out it was.
What type of commitment is it for you?
A lot of us have other jobs, but in terms of our commitment, it’s not just fly in, work the game and leave. During the week I’m constantly looking at video from my previous game. For a Sunday game, we typically arrive in whatever city we’re working in early Saturday, and have pre-game meeting for a couple of hours, looking through the previous game as a group. On Wednesday we would have received a report card on our weekend game, we get graded on every play of every game. Calls we should or shouldn’t have made. Incorrect mechanics, etc. You can’t practice what we do, the way a golfer can go out and practice their short game or their putting. You can’t do that with this job. Watching video is the best way to prepare and improve.
Right now though, the schedule is definitely a bit out of whack. We typically know four weeks in advance which game we are working, but I won’t find out my game for next weekend until later this afternoon. And we’ve been off for so long. I was lucky enough to work the super bowl last year, but some people haven’t worked since early January. We’ve all stayed in shape and worked out, but we were fresh out of the box Sunday, and there were a few glitches. It’s just a matter of reviewing everything and getting back in sync.
I refused to watch those games because I refused to watch these characters work. The mistakes they made were just monumental. No one should have expected it to work, though. Granted we make mistakes, we’re human. But typically not glaring mistakes. And we have a system in place so that if we make enough mistakes, they get rid of us.
I really wasn’t happy with the guys who went and worked those game, you don’t do that to other officials. You support one another. If we do well with a labor relationship, it’s going to filter down. The profession will be upgraded. I was very disappointed with all the guys that went out and worked those games.
I haven’t done that yet. I teach a class, I was a full-time faculty member at Orange Coast College for 35 years, and I still teach a surfing class Friday mornings. And A lot of courses are closed on Mondays, so it hasn’t worked with my schedule. It’s on the checklist of life things to do while I am doing football, though.
What is your relationship with golf these days?
I've been a member at Mesa Verde for three years, and I absolutely love it. Smartest thing I ever did. The staff is tremendous. My wife and kids and I absolutely love it. I try to get on [the course] as much as I can. I have two or three groups of guys I play with consistently. If I could do it every day, I would.