Luke DeCock

Doug Rhoads, former ACC football official, left lasting legacy

Doug Rhoads, coordinator of football officials, speaks during the Officiating Media Opportunity at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., Monday, July 21, 2014.
Doug Rhoads, coordinator of football officials, speaks during the Officiating Media Opportunity at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., Monday, July 21, 2014. theACC.com File Photo

Doug Rhoads, the ACC’s influential former coordinator of football officiating, passed away on May 6. Six days later, the ACC announced all football replays would be handled from a central location, possibly the most fitting tribute to Rhoads’ life and career that the conference could muster.

It was Rhoads who, after taking over in 2007 after decades on the field as a back judge, pushed the ACC to install a central monitoring center in its Greensboro headquarters, an impressive control room/studio that allowed the ACC’s football staff to watch and record every game in progress and then edit and narrate Rhoads’ weekly update videos for coaches and officials.

Replay reviews were still handled by on-site officials within stadiums, but Rhoads easily could have done it himself. Every time there was a video review anywhere in the ACC, his phone and iPad would buzz with the video clip for immediate viewing. Rhoads was once driving home from Greensboro when an ACC coach wanted to know if a play his staff had drawn up was legal. Rhoads told the coach to drop it into the system; he pulled over at a gas station, watched the clip on his iPad, passed judgment and got back on the road.

That sort of technology is fairly common now, but Rhoads pushed for the ACC to become an early adopter, and he was enduringly proud of it.

And in the immediate wake of his death, the ACC became the first conference to follow the model used by most professional leagues and oversee all replay reviews from a central location, the command center that Rhoads built, his lasting legacy. A close second: successfully integrating a large number of former Big East officials into the established ACC pool with the addition of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville. He sent five ACC officials on to the NFL in his eight years in charge, including referee Brad Allen of Lumberton.

The gregarious Rhoads hit the rare trifecta of being popular among officials, coaches and the media, some of whom looked forward to his annual officiating seminars at ACC football media days as much as Rhoads did. He was laid to rest in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday, where he worked and lived for much of his life, but he left a big part of himself in North Carolina as well – he retired to the Outer Banks, where he docked his fishing boat, the Time Out.

He had only a year to enjoy retirement and his gig as an ESPN and NBC rules analyst; only a few months ago, he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

While Rhoads was best known for his career in college football – speakers at his funeral included ACC commissioner John Swofford, College Football Playoff chief operating officer Michael Kelly and ACC associate commissioner Ben Tario, who worked alongside Rhoads while he was building the football command center – the police officers standing at attention at his funeral and the Albemarle County police detective who spoke were a reminder that Rhoads was far more than a football official.

He served as an Army captain in Vietnam, winning a Bronze Star, Air Medal and Republic of Vietnam Medal of Honor. He spent 25 years with the FBI before becoming deputy chief in Albemarle County. And he was a husband and father of four.

That’s a full life without ever blowing a whistle, and an important reminder that football officials in particular – even in the NFL – are part-time employees with careers and lives and families that have nothing to do with what’s happening on the field. It’s still a tremendous time commitment, but there’s more to it than showing up and throwing on the stripes and facing the inevitable abuse.

Rhoads embraced the scrutiny, both as an on-field official and as a supervisor, perhaps because while college football was his passion, the rest of his life allowed him to put it in perspective.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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