Walt Coleman is an American football official in the National Football League (NFL) since the 1989 NFL season. He wears uniform number 65.
Coleman resides in Little Rock, Arkansas and is a sixth-generation family operator of Coleman Dairy (now Hiland Dairy).
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 on February 23, 2009, joining his father, Buddy Coleman, a 1994 inductee.
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.
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), but is most notable for being the referee in the game that became known as "The Tuck Rule Game".
Coleman's 2013 NFL officiating crew consists of umpire Roy Ellison, head linesman Jerry Bergman, line judge Rusty Baynes, field judge Greg Gautreaux, side judge Rick Patterson and back judge Greg Yette.
Coleman has been at the center of several controversial calls during his career. Here are examples of a few of them (in chronological order):
1998 Colts v. 49ers game:
The Indianapolis Colts met the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on October 18, 1998. The Colts jumped to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, but questionable calls by Coleman's crew allowed the 49ers to come from behind and win 34-31. Under particular scrunity were two controversial holding calls that negated two end zone interceptions by Indianapolis, which eventually led to San Francisco points. After the game, Colts head coach Jim Mora opined that "it was a horrible, horrible job by the officials", saying that there was even an argument between Coleman and another official on one of the two questionable penalties before making a final call on that particular play.
The league would later admit that both holding penalties should not have been called. Reacting to the officiating by Coleman's crew, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King bluntly wrote:
The Tuck Rule Game:
Coleman is best known for the controversial instant replay call he made on January 19, 2002 during the "Tuck Rule Game," which was named after a rule relevant to Coleman's decision to reverse the call on the field. With 1:47 left in regulation, Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson knocked the ball from New England's quarterback Tom Brady causing Brady to lose the ball. It was recovered by Oakland linebacker Greg Biekert. The play was originally called a fumble. However, Coleman reviewed the play and overturned the fumble call, giving the Patriots the opportunity to win the game. The rule applied in the decision was the tuck rule, stating 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."
Adding to the confusion during the game was that Coleman did not explain that he applied the tuck rule when he announced the replay reversal. All he said was, "The quarterback's arm ... was coming forward" before he was drowned out by the thunderous roar of the crowd. Coleman later said of the play, "It was in the last two minutes of the game, and the (instant) replay guy, buzzed me and said the play needed to be reviewed. After I went over to the monitor and looked at the play, it was obvious to me that it was a forward pass. So I changed the ruling from a fumble to an incomplete pass and, as the saying goes, 'the rest is history'."
As a result of the controversy the "Tuck Rule" entered NFL lore and the call has been regularly referenced for over a decade of discussion about whether to modify the rule. And as of 2012, Coleman has never worked a game involving the Raiders due to the controversy of the questionable reversal. In March 2013, league owners voted 29-1 to abolish the rule.
2002 Vikings v. Packers game:
On December 8, 2002 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Packers came from behind to defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 26-22, in a contest in which the league would later admit that Coleman and his crew made nine officiating errors. One of the errors included a 28-yard pass interference penalty that was called on Vikings safety Corey Chavous, which helped the Packers to score their game-winning touchdown. The win helped keep Green Bay in the race for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
2003 AFC Championship Game: Colts vs. Patriots (January 18, 2004):
Coleman was the head official in the controversial 2003 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. During the contest, the Patriots defense utilized an aggressive coverage scheme, involving extensive jamming of the Colts wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, en route to a 24-14 win. Colts players would later publicly complain that the officials did not properly call illegal contact, pass interference, and defensive holding penalties on the Patriots' defensive backs. The controversial non-calls included New England cornerback Ty Law throwing Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison out-of-bounds during a pass play, and the contact applied to tight end Marcus Pollard during the Colts' final drive. 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) - a change that led some observers to call it the "Ty Law Rule".
2008 Steelers v. Ravens game:
Coleman was involved in another controversial replay call near the end of regulation during a late regular season game on December 14, 2008 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, a game in which the Steelers needed a win to clinch the AFC North title. With the Ravens leading 9-6 with less than 50 seconds left to play in the fourth quarter, Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes caught a 3-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was ruled down just shy of the goal line. But after reviewing the play, Coleman overturned the call, saying that Holmes caught the pass with his feet in the end zone, and therefore scored what ultimately was the game-winning touchdown. After the game, Coleman said to a pool reporter that the replay did in fact show that the ball barely broke the plane of the goal line - a fact he never mentioned on the field during the game. Nevertheless, the replay reversal was criticized by the sports media, not only for the initial explanation, but also because they felt that there was never any conclusive evidence to support the replay reversal. However, Mike Pereira, the NFL's Supervisor of Officials, would later discuss the play on his weekly "Official Review" segment on NFL Network's NFL Total Access and show that there was indeed indisputable visual evidence that the ball did break the plane of the goal line when Holmes had control of the ball with both of his feet down.
2009 Cowboys v. Eagles game:
Mike Pereira himself would also later question a replay review by Coleman during a critical November 2009 mid-season contest between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. With the game tied at 13 with 11:42 left in regulation, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb attempted a quarterback sneak on fourth down and inches to go near the Dallas 45-yard line, but was ruled just shy of the first down marker. Philadelphia challenged the spot, but Coleman upheld the call after reviewing the play. The Cowboys would then go on to win the game, 20-16, and take a one-game lead in the NFC East. Later in the week, Pereira, on his weekly Official Review segment, criticized Coleman for not adequately using the beak of the Eagles mid-field logo as a guide to help him re-spot the ball. "I think I'd move the ball ... It might have made a difference," said Pereira. The Cowboys would eventually win the division, based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. This gave them homefield advantage for their first game of the 2009 Playoffs, in which they defeated the Eagles.
2012 Lions v. Texans game:
Coleman officiated the 2012 Thanksgiving Day game between the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions at Ford Field in Detroit. With 6:50 left in the third quarter, the Texans had the ball on their own 19-yard line, trailing the Lions 24-14. On second down, the ball was handed to Houston running back Justin Forsett. Replays clearly indicated that Forsett was down by contact after a short gain, but no whistle was blown and Forsett ended getting back up to run for an 81-yard touchdown. However, Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz immediately threw the challenge flag after the scoring play, which negated the automatic review that would have overturned the call. The Texans ended up winning the game in overtime. Both Mike Florio of ProFootballtalk and Mike Pereira, who now is a consultant with Fox Sports, later wrote that they would favor a rule change to make this just a 15-yard penalty. The day after the game, NFL director of football operations Ray Anderson said that the league competition committee will likely discuss the rule during the ensuing off-season. New York Giants co-owner John Mara, who originally was a proponent of the "red-flag-no-review" rule after an incident in a 2010 game against the Washington Redskins, then said to USA Today that he plans submit the rule change proposal to the competition committee.