NEW YORK (AP) It's difficult to imagine anyone aspiring to the job Dean Blandino has.
He works every Sunday from late summer into the dead of winter, and the people he oversees are among the most scrutinized and criticized in all walks of life.
He recognizes that being as anonymous and unobtrusive as possible is a key part of his charge.
Blandino is the NFL's vice president of officiating, a position he assumed last year. Although he is affable, honest and extremely communicative, he wouldn't mind never being asked a question about his job or the performance of his underlings.
But he knows attention always will follow him and the 119 officials who work games. So Blandino simply shrugs and admits it goes with the territory that when a game is called well, he hardly ever hears about it. But when the officials mess up, the complaints from team owners, general managers, coaches, players and fans could drown out the crowd at CenturyLink Field.
''We have our challenges,'' Blandino says with a grin, making it clear he believes his group meets them.
The 42-year-old Blandino has never officiated a game. A 1994 graduate of Hofstra University on Long Island, he used to play pickup basketball with Jets players whose training base was at the school. He joined the NFL's officiating department in 1994 as an intern, working under Jerry Seeman, the longtime head of officials.
Ever since, Blandino has immersed himself in all aspects of officiating, much as a former public relations intern named Roger Goodell did in learning every facet of NFL business. Blandino worked as an officiating video assistant, a special projects coordinator, an NFL instant replay official - handling two Super Bowls and two conference championships - and then managed the league's instant replay program from 2003 to 2009.
Blandino emphasizes the importance of experience for all officiating positions.
''You need a certain level of experience before you can officiate in the NFL,'' he says. ''Nothing replaces it, starting at an entry point and moving through the ranks.''
Those entry points often are at the high school level, then on to college before being placed in the NFL's officiating pool.
''We look at a combination of experience, ability and presence,'' he says. ''We think that is a good mix.''
One of the criticisms of his officials is that ''experienced'' turns into ''aged'' and that they can't keep up with the speed and power of modern pro football. Another is that they are part-timers.
Blandino smiles comfortably before attempting to shoot down such notions.
''There are misconceptions about our officials, that they just show up on Saturdays and work on Sundays and go home,'' he says. ''The number of hours they spend during the week watching videos and communicating and taking tests becomes maybe 15 hours, and that is not counting the weekend. There are conference calls on a Tuesday or Wednesday and feedback they get from the league office. They go through training tapes and have meetings at the game site.
''This is much more than a weekend profession.''
Blandino insists the men handling the jobs are fit mentally and physically, that they train hard and with the most updated resources. All of them attend a clinic that has a physical assessment component, and the league is using a performance group with expertise in functional movement and agility to help the officials.
In July in Dallas, the officials underwent a 90-minute assessment in which they ran through drills that mimic their movements on the field. That established a baseline for their performances, and helped in devising a workout program for each of them.
''We identify problem areas, where we need to get better.''
Blandino himself ran into something of a problem area during the summer when TMZ reported he was on a party bus with Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones. The league said it received no complaints.
Once the games start, though, there are sure to be plenty of complaints about the officiating. It's the nature of the beast, and Blandino knows it.
He could be at the center of the firestorm because his duties have increased exponentially.
Blandino's office will consult on all video reviews this season, although the final decision will remain with the referee. The objective is simple: get the call right.
Blandino believes the entire review will be sped up by having his office involved in the process. A similar system has worked well for the NHL.
''We'll have one person monitoring each game, and when there is a key play, it will be called to our attention,'' he says. ''I can start to formulate my opinion and we communicate with the replay official at the game even before the referee has gotten under the hood.
''It's more efficient. We want to make sure we do not make a mistake and that we apply a consistent standard.''
One thing Blandino can be certain about: If his officials get even one call wrong, they will hear about it, regardless of the hundreds they might get right.
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