Author Topic: Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee  (Read 518 times)

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Offline carol1995

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Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee
« on: February 10, 2020, 12:51:17 PM »
Retiring Big Ten referee Dan Capron on Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini — and the coach who acted ‘like a 4th-grader’

Referee Dan Capron once announced, “Timeout, Wisconsin.”

The crowd erupted in laughter. Why? The teams on the field were Nebraska and Miami.

“My most embarrassing moment,” he says.

There haven’t been many, or else Capron would not have been selected to officiate the Alabama-Georgia national title game in the 2017 season, the 2016 Alabama-Washington semifinal, the most-attended college football game in American history (156,990 at Bristol Motor Speedway for Tennessee-Virginia Tech in 2016) and two Big Ten championship games, including Ohio State’s victory over Wisconsin in December.

“He’s a professional, a man of high intelligence and conviction,” says Frank Steratore, the brother of former NFL and college basketball official Gene Steratore and a side judge for the 2019 conference title game. “And he is a Big Ten guy.”

A Big Ten guy with stories.

Capron, a South Side native and Marist High School alumnus, entered his 20th season knowing it would be his last. At 63 he is retiring his whistle while remaining a partner at the Chicago law firm Capron & Avgerinos.

An Illinois graduate with a law degree from Indiana, Capron dished on his career in stripes.

Why 20? A nice round number?

Bill Carollo (coordinator of Big Ten football officials) said, “You’re still functioning at full throttle.” But I noticed slippage in some of my physical abilities, and I didn’t want to get to the point where he did (too).

Bill gave me a great schedule and pretty much let me pick where I wanted to work my final Big Ten game. But he was very clear: The postseason is serious business; there are no graduation presents. So far I’m delighted with my decision. Check with me again in August.

Did you ever want to officiate in the NFL?

The NFL is significantly more money, the difference between making $50,000 and $200,000 in a year. And you get union protection.

Everything else about officiating in the Big Ten is better. We’ve got bands, we’ve got cheerleaders, we’re on a college campus. The atmosphere is a different feeling from an NFL stadium. And our crowds are bigger.

You were the referee for the incredible Michigan-Ohio State game in 2016 in which Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett was awarded the first down in double overtime.

My gosh, it was electric; the first one (in the series) that went into overtime. It’s unlike any other game because your radar is on every second. When that game ends, you’re mentally exhausted from maintaining such a focus for 3˝ hours.

How about the coaches? Start with Urban Meyer. What is he like during the game?

He is unlike any other Big Ten coach. He is distant, uncommunicative. He had a staff member whose job it was to communicate with the officials. I’d come over at the end of the first half, as I’m obligated to do, and say, “Coach, you’re out of timeouts.” Or maybe I’d say something like, “Coach, No. 64 is on the edge (of getting a penalty); you better talk to him.” I was engaging in what we call preventive officiating.

If you don’t want to listen to what I have to say, you’re probably not doing your team any favor. I’m not expecting that coaches will be warm and fuzzy, though some of them are absolutely lovable. Coach Meyer was all about the business of coaching his team, and he wanted nothing to do with the officials or with officiating.

That seems shocking for a guy who leaves no stone unturned.

Anytime I would approach his sideline, he would turn and go the other direction. Now, in his defense Ohio State is a pressure-packed job and he’s got a million things on his mind. The other coaches seem to be able to parse that out in such a way that they’re able to communicate with the officials. For whatever reason, that wasn’t on his radar screen. The pregame meetings were as brief as he could possibly make them … captains’ numbers, kickoff time, everybody legally equipped. Check, check, check. Good luck, Coach. Goodbye.

How about the Barrett play?

Of course the ruling on the field was that he made the line to gain (on fourth-and-1) and it was going to be a first down. The buzzers went off and it got kicked up to replay. I don’t know why the network didn’t have a camera right on the yard line. It was broadcasting malpractice. Because there was no camera on the yard line, there wasn’t a good angle to make the determination on an excruciatingly close call. I’m talking about within an inch. So replay couldn’t get a read on it, and they did what they’re supposed to do. The ruling on the field stands.

By the way, the line judge who made that call is Brian Bolinger from Indiana. That was his last Big Ten game because the next year he started in the NFL. Pretty damn good.

Jim Harbaugh got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for slamming down his headset and flinging his play cards in the air.

The head linesman — from the state of Michigan, not that it matters — (assessed the penalty). … Coach Harbaugh threw his clipboard out on the field. Well, that’s a no-brainer. First of all, he was complaining about an offside call, which is not the hardest in the book to make. It was a completely valid call.

You have to be able to control yourself. There’s a tremendous amount of gray area with the unsportsmanlike conduct call. His actions were black and white. If that head linesman doesn’t make that call, he’s going to get downgraded by the boss. And it’s going to cost him.

You throw something out on the field, I can understand that … if you’re a fourth-grader. If you’re an adult that’s paid (more than) $5 million a year to coach a major college football team, I would expect more.

And then he spent the postgame ripping you guys, earning a $10,000 fine.

He’s still not the worst coach. The worst coach I’ve ever worked for, ever, not even close, no one within 10 miles, is Bo Pelini. (laughs)

I had Purdue at Nebraska. Darrell Hazell was at Purdue. Total gentleman. Nebraska was heavily favored, but it was a very close game. Nebraska had the ball, and the quarterback muffed the snap from center and there was a big pileup. And so now the umpire is digging in there to see who has the ball. I’m standing back. I don’t get involved in those. All you need is for somebody to stand up with their helmet and clock you in the jaw, and it could kill you.

My umpire looks at me and I swear he says, “White ball.” Meaning Purdue. Nebraska is in red. I step out and I point: Purdue ball. Simultaneous with me, my center judge points the other way. Nebraska’s ball. Now we are convicted of being idiots. No matter what else happens, we are the three stooges.

We get together. I say, “You just said ‘white ball.’ ” He says, “No, I said ‘red ball.’ ” Look, let’s be clear: Who recovered the ball? Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska. No (official) has Purdue.

Unbeknownst to me, Coach P is over there on the sideline going crazy. I step out and announce: The ruling on the field is that the loose ball was recovered by Nebraska. It will be second down and 10 at the such-and-such yard line. As I turn to the Nebraska sideline, he is pointing at me, screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’ll have your job!” The moment “job” was out of his mouth, my flag hit its apex. So now there’s 15 yards against Nebraska.

The game goes on uneventfully, and Nebraska ends up winning. We go in the locker room and I say to my guys, “Do you think I should call Bill (Carollo)?” because he always wants to know about anything controversial. He doesn’t want to get blindsided. The consensus was better to be safe than sorry. Give Bill a call.

I take out my cellphone and call the command center. I ask for Bill. I hear: “Hang on, he’s on the phone with Pelini.” The game wasn’t over for four minutes!

I remember when he swung his cap and almost hit an official.

That was so out of line. If he had been ejected, it would have been supported (by the conference).

How about the scoop-and-score fumble recovery that was overturned in the Ohio State-Clemson semifinal in December?

I’m not being critical of anybody, but once it goes upstairs, with the exception of targeting, the replay official is not supposed to re-officiate the play. The replay official is in the nature of an appellate court. And he is there to correct obvious mistakes. Unless there is indisputable video evidence that the call was wrong, the play stands.

What was your best or favorite moment over the 20 years?

I had the Alabama-Georgia national championship. That was pretty cool.

You know, you were talking about the Michigan fan base. Well, they’re pikers compared to the Georgia fan base. I was getting emails, texts. It was ugly, vile. Something gets out on the internet that I somehow worked for the University of Alabama, and it becomes gospel truth. Of course I couldn’t care less (who wins).

We had a miss. Alabama was on the ropes. They were deep in their own territory and they’re punting. The punt gets blocked. There’s a flag on the ground because the line judge had Georgia offside. Oh, boy. He (the player, Tyler Simmons) actually had a running start and timed it (properly). He wasn’t offside.

But that wasn’t my call. The blocking backs, a split-second before the snap, moved. That was a false start. That should have been my call. It still wouldn’t have been a blocked punt but instead a five-yard penalty against the offense. You never want to make a mistake of any kind in such a high-profile atmosphere.

Back to the Big Ten … how about the time Joe Paterno almost collided with you?

We’re in Columbus and it’s late in the first half, our final TV timeout. Penn State is pinned back and punting. I raise my hand to signal ready for play.

All of a sudden I see Coach Paterno running onto the field and right at me. Oh, (crap). He has his head down and he is running at me. The stadium almost went silent. What’s going to happen next?

He’s coming and coming and gets within five yards and runs right past me. A less experienced referee might have thrown a flag, but I’m like: Let’s not make trouble out of nothing. I blow the ball ready for play, they punt the ball and the half ends uneventfully. (Penn State defensive coordinator) Tom Bradley is now running off the field for halftime. I say, “Coach, what was that about?” He says: “Joe’s got a touch of the flu; he had a little diarrhea. He had to go.”

Any other Paterno tales?

Penn State’s playing a MAC team and getting all it can handle. Penn State has the lead late in the game and they’re trying to get that clock at zero. So Penn State’s got the ball, and all of a sudden the line judge who’s working his very first Big Ten game kills the clock, but he doesn’t throw a flag. I say, “What do you have?” He says, “I’ve got to charge a timeout to Penn State.” But he’s not even on the Penn State sideline. I ask why. He says the wideout on his side doesn’t have his mouthpiece in. By rule if the snap is imminent and a player is not legally equipped, it is a charged timeout.

I say, “OK, pal, welcome to the Big Ten.” I turn on my microphone: “Charged timeout, Penn State.” Well, JoePa says: “What? What? I didn’t call a timeout.” I say, “The line judge says your wideout didn’t have his mouthpiece in.”

Then comes some of the greatest football wisdom I’ve ever heard in my life. Joe says, “Well, why didn’t he tell him to put it back in?”

What percentage of calls do you all get right?

In an average Big Ten game with 150 to 200 plays, we might miss four. That includes no-calls — missed a DPI (defensive pass interference), missed a hold, ineligible downfield. A trade secret: As an official, you would much rather have one of those than have a flag that’s thrown that’s wrong. You don’t want to put a flag on the ground unless you’re 110% sure. Bill (Carollo) has a saying: I want you to love your call. If you’re not sure, don’t throw the flag.

I want to ask about a few other coaches. How is Scott Frost?

He came in and he required a little bit of acclimatization. He needed to get used to the fact that he’s now the head coach of a major program in a major conference. And he’s matured in the job. It’s a humbling job.

He’s in a pressure-cooker environment and I can respect that. Would I want to have beers with him after the game? Maybe not.

P.J. Fleck?

He’s very intense. He should probably switch to decaf. I think he thinks that he is still playing the game. And he’s not. But, boy, you can’t argue with the success he has had.

He drew that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Iowa City for sprinting onto the field after Tyler Johnson got hurt.

He ran out on the field before the referee had beckoned him. It was just a little overexuberance. If I was the referee on that game, I might have wanted to have that flag back, but I’m not going to criticize him because you’ve got to make these decisions in the blink of an eye. And I wasn’t there. So I don’t know what it looked like or felt like. Watching it on TV, that might have been a stern talking-to: “Look, Coach, I know you’re concerned about your player, but you’ve got to wait for us to kill the clock.” A coach cannot run on the field at all unless we permit it.

Anything interesting from Ron Zook or Tim Beckman?

Ron Zook was a heck of a coach but a handful to deal with. He was very involved in how he thought that the officiating should be. He was around when we first started to become cognizant of helmet-to-helmet contact. They wanted us to start calling these high hits. I'll never forget there was a play that my field judge called where the ball is overthrown, 10 yards over the receiver’s head, and the Illinois defensive back lowers his head, uses the crown of his helmet and knocks him into the middle of next week. My field judge has a flag.

Ron Zook thought the flag was for defensive pass interference. And he was yelling that it was uncatchable, which it certainly was. But that’s not what the foul was for, and he couldn’t understand why that was a foul. Some coaches have a mindset of that’s the way that you’ve always played the game. But it’s the coaches who can adapt and re-teach their players who tend to do well.

Pat Fitzgerald?

Total class act. Another one is Kirk Ferentz. He sent a note to the Big Ten office congratulating me on a wonderful career. Paul Chryst. So many wonderful, decent people. Mark Dantonio gets a tough rap because he’s such a curmudgeon. He’s such an overt, blatant, obvious crab. But I’m crabby, too, and I can respect that. I’ve had a wonderful relationship with Mark Dantonio. The last time I had him, I walked in (and) said, “Hey, Smilin’ Mark, how’s it going?” I got a chuckle out of him.

I understand that these guys are highly paid and expected to win. By definition, 50% of them in any given game are going to fail. I get that and similarly I think they understand I’ve got a job to do and I don’t care who wins. I’m going to miss almost all of these coaches.

Your final regular-season game was Northwestern-Illinois at your alma mater. You had your four daughters and nine grandchildren there. Plus Fitz and Lovie Smith.

They were the best, just magnificent gentlemen. They’re great coaches and they make college football better. And they make the Big Ten better. I was proud to officiate a game with those guys on the sideline.

Bonus: An incredible story about Dan Capron’s start in officiating ...

Early in my officiating career, I joined the COA (Central Officials Association), which is the oldest and one of the largest such associations in the nation. Many giants of officiating have come up through the COA, including Jerry Markbreit, Tom Quinn, Bill Lemonnier and others. But the association has a history which is not entirely admirable. Up until the early 1960s, it was entirely segregated, 100% white. Black officials were expected to join their “own” association, the MOA (Metropolitan Officials Association). The racial bias was kept in place owing to a requirement that new COA members had to have an existing member as a sponsor. This served to maintain the status quo: nice and tidy and bigoted.

In about 1960, give or take a year, a very courageous COA member sponsored an equally courageous black official as a member. As you might imagine, this created vehement dissension within the ranks, loud and acrimonious. The sponsoring white member stood up and proclaimed, “We need to give this young man a chance.” To its credit, and largely because of the impassioned arguments of the sponsoring white member to do what is right, the COA admitted its first black member, but the sponsoring official lost many friends over the perception that he was using the COA for social engineering and needlessly rocking the boat. The COA has two divisions, and the sponsoring official worked basketball. The newly admitted black official worked football, so their careers diverged. The sponsoring official worked mainly high school and some small college basketball before his career petered out in the early 1970s under the demands of job pressures and a growing family. The black official distinguished himself, patiently climbing the ranks, paying his dues and eventually becoming the first black referee/crew chief in the Big Ten.

Fast forward to 2000. I was hired into the Big Ten as a head linesman, despite having worked at the referee position in the Division III ranks. This effectively doubled the size of the hurdle that greeted me: Not only would I be officiating at a level where the athletes were significantly faster in front of crowds which were massively larger, I would be doing it from a position on the field which was largely foreign to me. As you might expect, things did not go well. After my first year, I received a letter from David Parry, the supervisor of officials: I finished seventh out of seven head linesmen and in the bottom third of the officiating staff as a whole. I was moved to a different crew for 2001. At the end of the 2001 season, I received another letter: last among head linesmen, bottom third of all officials. I was moved to yet another crew for 2002. Same result. At this point, I lived in the legitimate fear that I would be dropped from the staff. The pattern was unmistakable, and it was Parry’s policy that he would not move an official to referee unless he had proven himself and earned the respect of his crew mates at another position.

At that point, unbeknownst to me, one of the technical advisers in the Big Ten spoke up for me, arguing that it was not fair to expect me to excel as a head linesman when my natural position was referee. Technical advisers were retired Big Ten officials who served as observers/graders at each game. They reported to David Parry, and their opinions counted heavily in postseason evaluations of the officiating staff. I was later told that the TA who advocated for me literally used the words, “Give this young man a chance!” Parry agreed, and my performance at head linesman in the 2003 season was markedly — perhaps miraculously — better: first among head linesmen, top third of the staff. Shortly thereafter, I was moved to referee and never looked back. My entire career hung by a thread, and the fortuitous advocacy of a very kind technical adviser is what saved it.

Perhaps you can see where this is going. The technical adviser who spoke up for me was Gilbert Marchman, who also served for many years as Clerk of the Illinois Appellate Court. He had been the first black crew chief in the Big Ten. His own officiating career might have been squelched, or at least impaired, had a brave and forward-thinking basketball official not stood up for what was right, even if it was unpopular. That man was Leo Hennessy, who passed away in 2017. I married his oldest daughter, and to his dying day, he was so very proud that his son-in-law was a Big Ten official.

I am very proud of the stand that my father-in-law took 60 years ago, just as I am grateful that the man he helped was, in turn, able to help me. The color barrier at the COA is on the ash heap of history. The field judge for the Super Bowl was a black official from the COA, Michael Banks. He was the field judge on my crew when I was a D-III refere

Offline Ralph Damren

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Re: Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2020, 10:02:42 AM »
Thank you for sharing that with us, Carol. I once saw an interview with Jerry Markbright (sp?) who told a story about a run-in with Woody Hayes when he was officiating in the Big Ten that was a hoot. If any of you are higher-tech than I (which isn't very high  hEaDbAnG) it would probably be enjoyable.

Offline markrischard

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Offline Ralph Damren

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Re: Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2020, 08:44:31 AM »
https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-jan-24-sp-1290-story.html

This one mentions Woody.
Thanks, Markischard, for locating this. Regrettably , with my limited high-tech skills, I was unable to view it. As I recall, the interview went sorta' like this....

Jerry made a call that Woody didn't agree with.
Woody threw his clipboard out on the field.
Jerry threw  ^flag .
As Jerry was about to announce, Woody's voice seemed louder,
Jerry turned to see Woody was out on the middle of field with him.
Jerry threw another  ^flag. (pre two and you're through era)
Woody said he only came out to get his clipboard.
Jerry responded that he would march the ball all the way into Indiana if he had to.
Woody looked puzzled  :o ??? ,grabbed his clipboard and ran off the field.
Woody remained quiet :-X for the rest of the half.
Jerry pondered  :!# what he did to shut Woody up.
As they were leaving the field for halftime, Woody ran by Jerry and said :
  "You crazy SON OF A GUN, you weren't heading toward Indiana, you were heading toward Pennsylvania  nAnA !" (game was in Ohio.
Jerry realized his error ,as he was heading east not west pi1eOn
Jerry also realized that getting Woody's mind off the game also caused him to realize what a fool he was making of himself at the cost of the Buckeyes.  tiphat:

Offline markrischard

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Re: Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2020, 10:23:39 AM »
Your story is better than the one in the article I linked.

Quote
His most vivid memory of his 11-year Big Ten career, however, was of that season’s Ohio State-Michigan game. Buckeye Coach Woody Hayes was so incensed by one non-call that he raced onto the field and called Markbreit a “little pipsqueak.” When Markbreit threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct, Hayes returned to the sideline and tore apart the down markers.

Offline Ralph Damren

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Re: Interview with Dan Capron, newly retired Big Ten Referee
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2020, 10:37:53 AM »
Your story is better than the one in the article I linked.

It's astounding that Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight coached in neighboring states as one would think they were connected at the hip  >:( >:(  pi1eOn !!