Jeff Triplette likes to travel and he likes to golf, so in celebration of his retirement from 22 years as an NFL official, he went to Cabo for a week with his wife and some members of his officiating crew. “I don’t play much [golf] but I do enjoy it,” Triplette says. “Social golf is what I call it.”
Triplette officially hung up his stripes earlier this month but he’s not done working. Prior to working in the NFL, Triplette was a former colonel in the Army National Guard, a risk-management vice president at Duke Energy and a real estate and financial executive. For the past five years he’s been the president and CEO of ArbiterSports.com, a site that assigns officials to different sporting events across the country and is now foraying into establishing registration for high school athletes.
Triplette’s career which spanned more than two decades did not come without controversy—including in his final game as a referee in January between the Chiefs and Titans. On Tuesday, Triplette spoke with The MMQB about his officiating career, instant replay, protests during the national anthem, his accent and more.
THE MMQB: You graduated with an economics degree from Wake Forest. You know about the nuclear, natural gas and electric business. You’re licensed in real estate. You’re a principal risk-management advisor. Why the hell did you ever take a job as an official?
TRIPLETTE: [Laughs] I started officiating back in college, and just fell in love with it. I wanted to stay involved with the game and stayed after it [through officiating]. I did football, basketball and baseball back in college, and I kind of settled on football after about 10 years. I could do that and still maintain my other job.
THE MMQB:Were you officiating youth games?
TRIPLETTE: Youth, but also high school. I did high school varsity when I was like 19 years old. I started very early and had a lot of fun doing it, and I had a lot of great teachers. I had to pay my way through college—my parents were not the wealthiest folks in the world and going to Wake Forest was not the most inexpensive thing in the world. I got scholarships, and [officiating] was a way to pay back the loans that I had taken out.
THE MMQB:What did your officiating career look like before 1996, your first season as an NFL official?
TRIPLETTE: When I started [officiating] in high school, Tom Dooley worked in the Southern Conference. I didn’t know Tom that well, but I actually did a business deal with him when I was at Duke Energy and of all things, he asks me, ‘do you coach?’ I said no, I actually officiate. We got to talking and he recommended me to Dallas Shirley who was then the supervisor of officials for the Southern Conference. That was years ago. And he helped me get into the Southern Conference as a football official. Tom Dooley officiated in the NFL for a number of years—15 or 20—and ran a construction company. Just a quality person all around, and he gave me that little nudge to say you need to talk to Dallas Shirley.
THE MMQB:Do you remember the call you got to come up to the NFL?
TRIPLETTE: Yep. Jerry Seeman was the boss then. I had worked already one year in the World League. Jerry called one day and said ‘I want you to join the NFL.’ That was a real big deal for me.
THE MMQB:We always ask these questions to NFL rookies on the field, but what was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment in 1996 in your first year as an official?
TRIPLETTE: My welcome was my first regular-season game working in RFK Stadium, the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Those are two teams I grew up watching immensely because they had two North Carolina quarterbacks [Duke’s Sonny Jurgensen in Washington and N.C. State’s Roman Gabriel in Philadelphia] back when I was growing up. To get to work in RFK and get to work my two teams was truly, truly an exceptional moment. The locker room attendant in Washington still remembers me and talks about that. His nickname’s Corky, and he still says, ‘Yeah I remember your first game.’
THE MMQB:I know you earned a Bronze Star in the first Gulf War. What was your most rewarding time as a member of the National Guard for 30-plus years?
TRIPLETTE: The most rewarding was to see the development of the young men and women. Being deployed over there in the first Gulf War, I probably gained the greatest appreciation for—and I’m going to say this—for the women who served in our unit. ... To see the female soldiers that we had in our battalion have to go through that—and me having a wife and daughter—it was like man, they got a lot of grit. And I gained a new respect for the ability of females to overcome. Women were not as accepted there and being a leader there at the time, it showed me a new light.
THE MMQB:As a veteran and as someone on the field the past two seasons, what was your take on the protests over the past couple of years?
TRIPLETTE: You know, it’s tough. Everybody has their perspective. I’m not going to say that someone isn’t entitled to their perspective on what they view. I’m kind of one of those, it’s my country and my flag and I’m proud to be part of it. But if they feel there’s injustice I certainly respect their right to say that.
THE MMQB:It sounds like you’re not necessarily in favor of how they went about it but you do understand the why, maybe?
TRIPLETTE: Yeah, yeah. I certainly understand the why. I certainly understand the why. And I understand that sometimes you have question things to get things changed. And you have to shock folks. Like I said, I probably had a different perspective in the early 70s before getting deployed to the Gulf War about females in the military. And that certainly changed as a result of me seeing their abilities and how they do it. And I’d say the same thing here is, we’ve got some challenges. And sometimes it takes folks to challenge us to make changes.
THE MMQB:You were an alternate for Super Bowl XLI but never got to officiate in the big game. How do you reconcile that? Do you feel like that’s a big hole on your resume?
TRIPLETTE: I’m OK with it. What’s big on my resume is knowing and watching young folks, the young rookies that I’ve helped get to that point, that Super Bowl ring or whatever it is there. I get more enjoyment of folks over the years coming up to you and saying, ‘Hey if I ever get a shot I want to be on your crew.’ That’s the biggest compliment. I’ve had a lot of that and those are the great moments that you remember.
THE MMQB:I think most people who watched the wild-card game between the Chiefs and Titans felt the officiating was lacking in the game. Mike Pereira said it was not a good performance and teams and fans deserved better. How do you think you and your crew officiated that game?
TRIPLETTE: Look, you know, there’s always going to be ups and downs. Players are going to have great games. Officials are going to great games. Players are not going have as great a game and officials may not have as great a game. It is part of the game. Whether or not any one person or crew has the greatest one, you know, you always want to do the best. As someone said you’re going to try to achieve for perfection and hope for excellence.
THE MMQB:How do you feel about retiring on that game?
TRIPLETTE: The only thing—and I’m going to say this—the only thing that I take exception to in that game was there was at least one writer who said that I made up a rule. And that bothers me because it’s a shot that the writer didn’t understand the rule, or obviously didn’t try to read the rulebook. And I’ll tell the play real quick.
THE MMQB:Yeah, was it the Mariota sack fumble?
TRIPLETTE: No, it wasn’t the sack fumble. It was the one where Mariota throws the pass, it deflects off someone and he catches it and scores. Now I made an announcement that said he was an eligible receiver because he lined up in shotgun, which is actually the truth. If you read the rulebook, because he lines up in shotgun he is an eligible receiver. He could have done a playground play and thrown the pass to himself, and it didn’t have to touch the defense. The writer said there is no such rule, that it hit the defense and so everybody was eligible. Well, that’s true but that’s the second part of it. Those are the kind of things that bother me more than anything that someone would allege that I made up a rule. Those are the kinds of things that bother folks that have … I’ll just call it integrity.
THE MMQB:Well, hey, I hear you. And like with any official criticism is going to follow. But it seems like you got a chunk of it throughout the years. I’m curious how did that affect you? Did it have a cumulative impact?
TRIPLETTE: It probably affected my wife more than anyone. And that’s the thing is, it doesn’t bother me. I know what was right and what was wrong. Sometimes you make a mistake. I’m not going to say I’m infallible.
THE MMQB:As a southerner, I know that our way of speech is sometimes interpreted negatively. I know I have a southern accent—when I go up to the New York offices I’m sure they’re wondering who is this country bumpkin that’s walking in. [Editor’s note: We appreciate Jonathan’s southern roots!] You have a pretty thick drawl. Do you think the drawl itself led to some unwarranted or unnecessary criticism?
TRIPLETTE: [Laughs] It could have. I have no idea. But it’s an interesting thought.
THE MMQB:What was the most rewarding moment in your officiating career?
TRIPLETTE: Just working. I enjoyed those three hours on the field with the guys and the greatest players in the world. That is a thrill that no one can ever take away from you. It’s not one individual game or one individual play. It’s just being able to say that you were out there every Sunday or every time that they wanted to tee it up.
THE MMQB:The league meetings are going on right now and we just re-litigated whatever the hell a catch is. In what direction to you see NFL officiating moving?
TRIPLETTE: [Former Giants GM] George Young probably said it best years ago. The reason he and the Giants always voted against instant replay was because we’re replacing one person’s judgment with another person’s judgment. And replay, I think we’re getting back now to thinking about replay as fixing the obvious error. It’s not meant to fix minutiae. Just as players make mistakes, officials are going to make mistakes and coaches are going to make mistakes. This is not a video game. It is a game played, officiated and coached by humans. It is what it is. We need to think about replay as something that makes sure we get the obvious error corrected but not destroy what is the game by making it a video game.
THE MMQB:This fall is going to be the first in what, 22, that you haven’t been out on an NFL field. How do you expect that’s going to feel?
TRIPLETTE: I imagine that my wife will love it occasionally when I’m going to be around on the weekends and do some things that she’s always wanted me to do.
THE MMQB:So what’s next for Jeff Triplette?
TRIPLETTE: I’m still running a company called ArbiterSports and having lots of fun doing it. We do the assignment of sports officials to lots of sports across the United States and several foreign countries and we’re moving into the registration and eligibility of high school athletes. I’m staying in sports business and have been doing this for the last five years and having a lot of fun doing it with these folks.
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