Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings looks to side judge Lance Easley for an explanation of a call on Monday night, before the game-ending controversy. (Joe Nicholson, U.S. PRESSWIRE)
by Jim Corbett, USA TODAY Sports
Small wonder why NFL replacement official Lance Easley is considered public enemy No. 1 this week -- and maybe for the entire season in Green Bay, Wis.
Working as the side judge Monday night, the longtime Southern California high school and junior college official signaled the winning catch by receiver Golden Tate in the Seattle Seahawks' last-play, 14-12 win against the Green Bay Packers -- a call the world believes he blew by turning an obvious interception into a touchdown.
But why was he in the NFL?
He wasn't deemed good enough to become a Division I college official this summer, according to Karl Richins and his staff of Division I college officials at Stars and Stripes Academy for Football Officials in Salt Lake City.
"I got to know Lance at a June academy I worked at in Reno and when he came to my academy in July," Richins said. "He's a very polite, good Christian gentleman, a good father to his son, Daniel, who was at my academy as well.
"But was Lance ready to work at the NFL level? Absolutely not."
Richins' staff determined that Easley, vice president of small business banking at Bank of America in Santa Maria, Calif., wasn't ready for Division I, the highest level of college officiating, never mind the much faster NFL game.
Richins said the biggest mistake Easley made was agreeing to become a replacement official in the first place. He said Easley had never officiated at a level higher than Division III and never voiced a desire to reach the NFL.
"I'm getting e-mails saying, 'Boy, you must be proud,'" Richins told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. "This is not what we intended for our officiating students to do. We train officials to work at the Division I level.
"At no time do we say, 'We can train you for the NFL.' After three days at our academy, Lance was determined by our staff not to be ready for Division I officiating."
That point was hammered home to a national television audience. On a last-second play, Easley ruled that Tate hauled in a touchdown pass, deciding he was the winner of a simultaneous-possession battle for the football with Packers safety M.D. Jennings. Problem is, TV replays showed Jennings clutching the ball to his chest.
And the league, in a statement Tuesday, said the supposed touchdown should've been nullified by pass interference on Tate, which Easley didn't call.
"The receiver was clearly pushing off," said Richins, a retired referee who worked Division I games from 2003-2010. "It was clearly offensive pass interference."
Attempts by USA TODAY Sports to contact Easley were unsuccessful.
Richins was a new official in the Mountain West Conference in 2001, when the NFL's veteran officials last went on strike, and he declined the opportunity for a "one-and-done" NFL experience. He says Easley should have heeded that advice.
"As officials, we always want to walk off the field and not be noticed," Richins said. "The best games are when fans and media talk about the players and coaches and what they did wrong and they don't ever mention officials.
"That's all anyone is talking about now -- the officials."
Richins worked in the Big 12 and Mountain West Conferences before a back issue forced his retirement in 2010.
Like a lot of players and fans, Richins wants the league and the referees to resolve their 3-month-old labor dispute.
He added: "With what happened, it'd be tough now for Lance Easley to face NFL coaches and players. I can't imagine how he was able to go to work at his normal job.
"We say, as officials, 'Pressure is a privilege.' These guys weren't up to the pressure."