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Walt Coleman

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Walt Coleman III
OccupationNFL official (1989–present)

Walt Coleman III is an American football official who has officiated in the National Football League (NFL) since the 1989 season. He wears uniform number 65. As of 2018, Coleman is the NFL's longest current tenured referee.


Coleman resides in Little Rock, Arkansas and is a sixth-generation family operator of Hiland Dairy.

His son, Walt Coleman IV, joined the NFL as an official in 2015.[1]

Outside of officiating, Coleman serves on many local boards and associations including the Little Rock Boys and Girls Club and Greater Little Rock YMCA. Coleman is a former president of the Arkansas Dairy Products Association and Major Sports Association of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Coleman was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame[2] in February 2009, joining his father, Buddy Coleman, a 1994 inductee.[3]

Officiating career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Coleman worked for the Arkansas Activities Association, the governing body for high school athletics in Arkansas, for 14 years before moving up to the college level. His college officiating career included five years in the Southland Conference (Division I-AA) and five years in the Southwest Conference (Division I). He was never promoted to referee during his college officiating career since he could not justify heading a crew with his five years experience in each conference.[4]

National Football League[edit]

Coleman served as a line judge for the first six seasons before being promoted to referee at the start of the 1995 NFL season when Dale Hamer was forced to sit out that season after undergoing open-heart surgery. Mike Carey had been promoted to referee when the NFL added another crew for the 1995 season in anticipation of the arrival of expansion franchises Carolina and Jacksonville.

Over his NFL career, he has worked two conference championship games (1998 and 2003) and was the alternate referee for Super Bowls XXXIV, XLII, and LI.

Coleman's 2018 NFL officiating crew consists of umpire Jeff Rice, down judge Jerry Bergman, line judge Mark Stewart, field judge Greg Gautreaux, side judge Jabir Walker, and back judge Greg Yette.[5]

Coleman made an instant replay call on January 19, 2002 in a game that led to its moniker as the "Tuck Rule Game". With 1:47 left, Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson knocked the ball from New England's quarterback Tom Brady. It was recovered by Oakland linebacker Greg Biekert. The play was originally called a fumble. Coleman reviewed the play and overturned the fumble call to an incomplete pass using the tuck rule, which says that "any intentional forward movement of [the thrower's] arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body."[6][4] In March 2013, league owners voted 29–1 to abolish the rule. Coleman has not officiated a Raiders game since.

Coleman was the head official in the 2003 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. Colts players later publicly complained that the officials did not properly call illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding penalties on the Patriots' defensive backs.[7] This, and similar complaints made by other NFL teams during that season, would prompt the NFL during the 2004 offseason to instruct all of the league's officials to strictly enforce these types of fouls (the "chuck" rule).[8]

Coleman officiated the 2012 Thanksgiving Day game between the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions. Houston running back Justin Forsett ran in an 81-yard touchdown, but replays indicated that Forsett was down by contact after a short gain.[9] Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag before he was entitled to, which negated the automatic review that would have overturned the call.[10] Mike Pereira wrote that he would favor a rule change to make this just a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike behavior, but still allow the review.[10] [needs update]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bailey, Jim (2009-02-14). "Arkansas Hall of Fame inductees play beat the clock". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.[dead link]
  3. ^ Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. "Buddy Coleman". Archived from the original on November 12, 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-14.
  4. ^ a b Green, Johnny (2005-06-23). "Milkman to flagman". Texarkana Gazette.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "ESPN 25 - 48: 'Tuck' play spurs Patriots to OT playoff win". Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  7. ^ Borges, Rob (2004-03-31). "NFL will crack down on pass interference". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
  8. ^ " — Laying down the Law in New England". Archived from the original on 2005-05-05. Retrieved 2006-07-07.
  9. ^ "Refs blow call in Texans-Lions game, allowing 81-yard TD by Justin Forsett". SBNation. Retrieved 2012-11-25.
  10. ^ a b "Strange rule leads to bizarre call". Fox Sports. Retrieved 2012-11-22.