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Walt Coleman
NFL Referee and Dairy Executive

Walt Coleman

Born in 1952, Walter C. Coleman III was the 5th generation to run Coleman Dairy, in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 2001 his family business was listed in Family Business Magazine as the United States 75th oldest family-run business, having been founded in 1862.

In 2007, Coleman Dairy became a division of Hiland Dairy.

Though he inherited a dairy juggernaut, Walt's greatest legacy is in the world of sports. In his 20's, Walt began a long career as a football referee. At the time of his retirement in 2018, he was the longest-running NFL referee in history.

This is big money, on a big stage, with big egos, and your word, as the referee, is the final word…like it or lump it. The next day, everybody is talking about it, and everybody must live with it. And living with it is what our guest did for 30 years… the guts, the glory, and the criticism.

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Listen to Learn:

  • How the family business merged with Hiland Dairy
  • What it's like to make million-dollar decisions on one of the world's biggest stages
  • About Walt's famous "Tuck Rule", and more...

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[0:00:09] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. A production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling, conversational interviews, and Kerry's natural curiosity, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of entrepreneurs, athletes, medical professionals, politicians and other successful people, all sharing their stories of success and the ups and downs of risk-taking. And now it's time for Kerry's McCoy to get all up in your business.


[0:00:35] KM: How big of Kahuna's must a person have to be an NFL referee? Well, today we're going to find out from our guest, Mr. Walt Coleman, who at the time of his retirement in 2018 was the longest-running NFL referee in history. This is big money on a big stage with big egos. And your word as the referee is the final word. Like it or lump it.

The next day, everybody's talking about it. And everybody must live with your decisions. And live with it is what our guests did for 30 years. The guts, the glory and the criticism. On top of that abnormal career choice, Walt is the fifth generation to run Coleman Dairy in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In 2001, his family business was listed in Family Business Magazine as the United States' 75th oldest family-run business having been founded in 1862. In 2007, Coleman Dairy became a division of Highland Dairy. Today we're going to talk about both sides of the coin, Coleman Dairy, aka Highland Dairy, and about the National Football League and what it's like to be standing on one of the world's biggest stages making million-dollar decisions.

We're going to talk about rules and changes in the game. Illegal contact, pass interference, targeting and defensive holding penalties. And the call that our guest, Mr. Walt Coleman, is most famous for, the tuck rule, that he used in the 2002 Super Bowl game.

It is with great pleasure I welcome to the table the entrepreneur and retired NFL referee, Mr. Walt Coleman. Hey, Walt.

[0:02:15] WC: Hi.

[0:02:18] KM: You're a nice guy. I thought referees had to be mean.

[0:02:21] WC: Not necessarily. I mean, sometimes it helps to be a little –

[0:02:27] KM: Cocky?

[0:02:27] WC: Yeah, maybe. But it's like anything. We all have different personalities. And in the officiating area, we had all kinds of different personalities as referees just like you have different personalities as coaches. Coaches don't all have the same personalities. It doesn't take one particular personality to be successful.

[0:02:45] KM: Yeah, some of them. Yeah.

[0:02:46] WC: You can look at it. Some of them are rangry.

[0:02:49] KM: Angry. Rangry.

[0:02:51] WC: And some of them aren't. Andy Reid, they won the Super Bowl. He's very laid back. Tony Dungy, very laid back. Bill Cower, he was so – you can be successful with any type of personality. Same thing as far as the referee position for the National Football League.

[0:03:09] KM: You have a nice demeanor for a 30-year NFL referee with those enormous guys and enormous egos. But before we get into the games and we start talking about that, we're going to talk about Coleman Dairy. But also, did you sleep before a game?

[0:03:22] WC: Yes, I slept better before the game than I did after the game.

[0:03:27] GM: Yeah. I didn't think about that.

[0:03:30] KM: Yeah, we're going to find out what replay that keeps you up at night. Is there one? Is it the tuck call?

[0:03:38] WC: Well, that's the call that I'm most known for. But I got it right.

[0:03:43] KM: You did. That's right.

[0:03:44] WC: You know, for me and probably like most people, I remember the ones I messed up as opposed to the ones that I got right.

[0:03:55] KM: You know, nobody's perfect. And you're on such a big stage with such big money at stake. And there's nobody that gets everything right 100% of the time ever.

[0:04:03] WC: Well, no. We're expected to be perfect and get better.

[0:04:07] KM: Oh, yeah. All right.

[0:04:09] WC: T hat's what's expected of those guys that wear the striped shirts.

[0:04:12] KM: Yeah. Number 65. That's you. Before we talk about your illustrious NFL career and all the players, owners, egos and some of the calls you're famous for that I just mentioned, let's talk about the Coleman Dairy business. I'm fascinated by the legacy. It's so wholesome. It's like the flag business. Coleman Dairy milk goes together with wholesomeness. Just like flags go together with wholesaleness.

[0:04:33] GM: American Pie.

[0:04:33] KM: American Pie. Yeah, you really do think about – give me a glass of cold milk and a slice of apple pie.

[0:04:39] GM: And an American flag.

[0:04:39] KM: And an American flag behind me. There you go.

[0:04:40] WC: Chocolate chip cookie maybe.

[0:04:41] KM: Oh, there you go. Coleman Dairy had a lot of sports philanthropy going. I think Buddy started that.

[0:04:51] WC: Yes.

[0:04:51] KM: You think that's why you all have so much business?

[0:04:55] WC: I think that that is one of the things that helped us survive, when all the other family-owned businesses were going by the wayside, is our investment in the youth and the sports teams that we sponsored all over the state of Arkansas. It's fun to have somebody come up to me and say I played on a Coleman Dairy little league team, or a Coleman Dairy pony league team, or a Coleman Dairy softball team.

And I think our involvement in the community and doing those kind of things across the state made a huge difference in people being willing to buy our product as opposed to – because that's what it's about. I mean, if you don't sell anything, there's no way you're going to be able to afford, to sponsor teams or do anything. So you have to have those consumers that are willing to pay for your product.

[0:05:50] KM: Do you think that's why your family has a legacy in football is because of your sponsorships into sports?

[0:05:56] WC: Well, I think it's a combination of things. As we merge companies together, if you go way far back, a gentleman named Cliff Shaw came and became part of our company. And he was a well-known college, and football and basketball official. He worked in NCAA Final Four.

[0:06:21] KM: Was he a mentor of yours?

[0:06:23] WC: He was a mentor. He's a mentor of my dad’s. He was a mentor of my Uncle Boots'. And he was the salesman it became the sales manager at Coleman Dairy back in the 50s. But he was a well-known official across the country.

If you're old enough to remember this, there was a play in a cotton ball one year where a player came off the bench and tackled Dicky Moegle when he was running for a touchdown in the cotton ball game. And this player for Alabama came off the bench and tackled him. He was in the open running for a touchdown.

And Cliff Shaw was the referee in this game. And so, he had to make a decision what to do. And he awarded TCU a touchdown on this play, which it wasn't in the rule book. He didn't have the authority to do that. But that's what he did. The next year, they put that in the rule book.

But it's a famous play as far as – and so, he was the sales manager of our company. And my Uncle Boots was involved in officiating. And when my dad was involved, my dad was involved in all kinds of sports. I mean, he coached two American Legion Baseball teams in '57 and '59 that won the state championship. And he was involved in a boxing, and track and so forth.

We've always been involved in sports. And my dad was a high school and college official. He was in the Southwest Conference for 26 years. He was a football official.

[0:07:44] KM: There's a lot of legacies. There's a lot of legacies in your family.

[0:07:47] WC: Yeah. The dairy and the officiating are legacies in the family. I followed in two different things as far as the family business, as far as the dairy business and the family deal as far as officiating. But I think all of that sure helped as far as your relationship with schools. You sell a lot of product to schools. So, we have good relationships with the schools.

[0:08:17] KM: You're great-great-great-great-great-great – is that five greats? Grandfather in 1862 founded Coleman Dairy fleeing the Civil War.

[0:08:27] WC: Yes.

[0:08:28] KM: That's what I read on Wikipedia.

[0:08:28] WC: Yes. Yeah. Yes.

[0:08:30] KM: He had two milk cows.

[0:08:34] GM: I kind of love that.

[0:08:34] WC: When I got involved in the business, we didn't have any dairy cows because they sold the dairy herd back in the early 40s and they used the money to put in processing equipment to start pasteurizing the milk. And my grandmother said, "Well, you're getting ready to mess everything up. You're going to screw up the product when you start pasteurizing it."

[0:09:01] GM: Oh, interesting.

[0:09:02] WC: But we got involved at that point in packaging and processing the product. And we would buy our product from all the local dairy farmers that were in Central Arkansas. And there were like 55 or 60 small dairy farms in the Central Arkansas Area back then.

[0:09:21] GM: And are they contract farmers with you?

[0:09:23] WC: Yes. That's the way it would have worked back then. Now once as it moved on, they became part of a co-op. They would put all their milk into the co-op. And back then, it was called AMPI. Associated Milk Producers Incorporated. And so, we would buy our milk from them. They were just part of the co-op. Because as Little Rock grew, all the dairy farms left. I mean, there weren't any and so forth.

[0:09:48] KM: And you had to pasteurize it for safety reasons. Because it's coming from so many different places that you don't know how these guys farmed or clean enough.

[0:09:55] WC: Well, problems are things that would be in the milk as far as – I mean, if you go to a dairy farm, you got to worry about a lot of things.

[0:10:03] KM: What's the cow eating?

[0:10:03] WC: And it's against the law to sell raw milk in the state of Arkansas.

[0:10:08] GM: Well, and it's – I was going to say, culturally, it changed. The laws were changing and the expectations were changing.

[0:10:14] WC: Yes. Yes. It was something that we started. And, obviously, that made a huge difference as far as us being able to stay in the business to be a processor, and to process the milk, and then package it and distribute in and around the state.

[0:10:31] KM: Yeah. Annie Oakley show?

[0:10:34] WC: Oh, yeah. That was a big –

[0:10:36] KM: I didn't know Annie Oakley was from Arkansas.

[0:10:37] WC: Yes. Gail Davis.

[0:10:38] KM: Yes. I did not know that.

[0:10:41] WC: Yeah. She grew up over by Pulaski Heights. Just north of the Med Center up there. Her house where she grew up was basically right across the street from Pulaski Heights.

[0:10:52] GM: I didn't know that.

[0:10:54] KM: I didn't either until the reading about – TV was brand new. And one of your in-laws – not in-laws. But –

[0:11:00] WC: My aunt.

[0:11:01] KM: Oh, okay. It's her idea.

[0:11:05] WC: Well, my aunt taught her dance. Gail Davis dance. And then when she became a big star they came up with the idea of – when the Annie Oakley show came out, that we would obviously sponsor the show as far as in the Central Arkansas area. And she was on the side of our milk cartons. We had her picture on the side of the carton.

And Louise Luken who was our spokesperson for many, many, many years. I mean, everybody thought she was my mother. Our mother. Because she was the face of Coleman Dairy.

[0:11:38] GM: Sure. Yeah.

[0:11:40] WC: She came in my Uncle Boots' office and said, "You need me to work for you." And she convinced my Uncle Boots to hire her for her – and so, she became the person who, when somebody would move to town – well, she would go greet that person and deliver them and let them have – bring them some Coleman products. And so, she was the greeter for Central Arkansas for us. And then she did all the TV advertising.

[0:12:07] KM: So she came up with the idea of getting Annie Oakley on being your spokesman.

[0:12:11] WC: I think she's the one that – I think she was one of the ones that helped come up with idea.

[0:12:17] KM: You recently sold your business. Or I don't know if you sold it. But you went in partnership with Highland Dairy. It was a merger. And you went from making, I don't know, 20 gallons a day of milk. I mean, it started off with 200 milk cows to 200 gallons a day. And then it went to, with Coleman Dairy, 35,000 gallons of milk a day. I read online.

[0:12:41] WC: Well, we're doing 950,000 a week now.

[0:12:44] KM: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, that's it's crazy to think about. Is it a merger or did you did –

[0:12:50] WC: No. We actually sold – we were in the same situation as most family dairy operations back then. The equipment is so expensive. I mean, you have to have refrigerated trucks. I mean, our product has got to be refrigerated. And the processing facilities, the equipment in the plant and all that, very expensive. And it got to the point where we just didn't have the capital to be able to do that.

We looked for some place to go where we could continue the way we wanted to do business and protect our employees, which was very important to us because they're the ones that made us successful. I mean, without – and we were a family business and we had all kinds of family people. I mean, second, third generation people who are working for us. I mean, I know a lot of companies have nepotism laws. And I don't believe in nepotism laws. But when you sell to somebody and that's what they have, then you have to deal with it.

But anyway, in 1995 it's when we initially sold the first time to our dairy cooperative because they needed some place to go with their milk. And so, we became part of them in '95. We were part of the co-op for three years. And then the co-op sold and merged and the federal government forced them to get rid of us because of Anti-Trust reasons. So we became part of a holding company with the Turners in Memphis. They had a plant in Memphis, and Fulton and Covington, Tennessee. And then our plant, Little Rock.

And then they bought what used to be the Affiliated Foods plant out there on I-30. We had two plants here in Little Rock. Our old plant there on Asher, at Asher University. And then the Highland plant – or, I mean, the Affiliated Foods plant that was on I-30.

And so, we had two plants. And it was obvious that we needed to do something. Obviously, we needed to merge. We needed to have one plant to do – the Affiliated plant put everything in a cardboard box and shipped it out to warehouses. Our plant put it in a milk crate, the things that you see on the back of motorcycles and everything.

[0:14:55] KM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

[0:14:55] WC: You know, bookshelves. They're very handy for other things other than hauling milk around. Anyway, and we put all our product in that. And that's how we delivered schools, nursing homes, restaurants, all that would go in those.

We put the two plants together where we could do both. Where we could do cardboard boxes and milk crates. And the plant on I-30 was a lot newer. It was built in 1980. Where our plant was built in 1930. And it had all the issues that you would think something that was built that long ago had. In 2000, we moved everything. We shut the plant down over on Asher and moved out to I-30.

[0:15:31] KM: And we're going to put a flagpole out there so y'all can all see it. We're going to put a Coleman Dairy custom flag on it. All right. This is a great place to take a break. We're speaking today with Mr. Walt Coleman, a man with two illustrious careers. He's a Coleman Dairy Legacy. And at the time of his retirement in 2018, the longest-running NFL referee in history.

Still to come, rule changes in the game. How much subjectivity is there in a call? And since he was once in the business of games, I've got a game to play with Walt will we come right back.


[0:16:01] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed along with Kerry's experience and leadership knowledge.

In 1995, she embraced the internet and rebranded her company as simply flagandbanner.com. In 2004, she became an early blogger. Since then, she has founded the non-profit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. Began publishing her magazine, Brave. And in 2016, branched out into this very radio show, YouTube channel and podcast.

In 2020, Kerry McCoy Enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com. An online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. And in 2021, opened a satellite office in Miami, Florida.

Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.


[0:16:58] KM: Thank you. You're listening Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. And I'm speaking today with Mr. Walt Coleman III. NFL referee, wearing number 65, from 1989 to 2018. And the fifth-generation owner/operator of Coleman Dairy. Now called Highland Dairy. Now we're going to talk about your journey. You began officiating in high school football games? Where did you begin officiating?

[0:17:23] WC: There were three people in our company that were officials. Cliff Shaw, my Uncle Boots and my dad. All three of them were officials and officiating. Now my uncle stopped because they required him to work Arkansas games. And he said he wasn't going to do that because, one bad call, you lose all your business.

[0:17:41] KM: Oh, you mean your Coleman Dairy business.

[0:17:43] WC: Yes.

[0:17:44] KM: Oh, smart.

[0:17:44] WC: And my dad continued to officiate and they had the rule in the Southwest Conference that Arkansas officials wouldn't work Arkansas games. My dad's career in the Southwest Conference, he did not have to work an Arkansas game until at the end of his career when coach Holtz raised, heck, about the fact that all the officials working these games were from Texas. Because they were either from Texas or Arkansas because that's where all the teams were.

And so, it was fair. Because an A&M graduate is not going to favor a Texas Longhorn, you know? And also, what that says is he's accusing officials of being biased, of not having the integrity to do what's right. And that's a typical comment that comes from coaches.

[0:18:34] KM: So then you begin refereeing when you got out of college. How long before you decided to start refereeing?

[0:18:39] WC: Well, I started immediately. When I got out of college in '74, that fall, I signed up and started officiating football games, in '74.

[0:18:51] KM: Were you the line judge or were you referee?

[0:18:53] WC: No. I was a line judge. Referee is the guy that's got to know the rules, is the leader of the crew and so forth. When you first start out, that's the last place they're going to put you. I started off as a head linesman or a line judge, which are the guys that are on the line scrimmage and do forward progress and so forth.

I started that. Junior High games at Scott Field. And I got some high – I did get to work some high school games my first year because dad knew people that gave me the opportunity and were willing to work with me with their crew. And so, I've got to work some high school games.

My very first high school game was Mountain Pine at Mount Ida. Everybody has to start somewhere. You start and you learn. And as you learn and you move up. And that's the way it worked with me. I started doing high school games and then I applied to small college. And I applied for the Southland Conference.

And I got in the Southern Conference in 1979. In '79, I got in the South. And that was a conference back then the Arkansas State was in. Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech Northeast Louisiana, North Texas, Lamar, McNeese. That was that conference. And so, I started working in those. But I was still working – I'd work a high school game on Friday night then I would drive to my college game on Saturday.

[0:20:21] KM: And then you'd come home and get divorced.

[0:20:21] WC: Then I'd come home – no. I still have the same wife. I mean, she –

[0:20:26] KM: That's got to be a hard job for a wife.

[0:20:26] WC: She's put up with a lot. In 1982, I had a high school game in Cabot on a Friday night. And then I had a college game in Lafayette, Louisiana on Saturday. I was working the high school game Friday night at Cabot and I was driving to El Dorado Friday night. Spending the night in driving the rest of the way to Lafayette. Well, my wife was pregnant.

[0:20:54] KM: Uh-oh.

[0:20:56] WC: And the doctor said, "Well, she wasn't going to have the baby." And so, Cynthia said, "Go work your game." I went and worked my game. And guess what?

[0:21:05] GM: Oh, man.

[0:21:07] KM: You had a bouncing baby boy.

[0:21:08] WC: But no daughter. When I came back through Little Rock from Cabot, heading to El Dorado – we didn't have cellphones back then. You know. I stopped. And my youngest brother said, "Oh, you're in trouble. Better go to the hospital."

I go to the hospital and she's had her daughter. And I got to see her and so forth. And then I went and got in the car and I drove to El Dorado to spend the night. And then I went on to Lafayette on Saturday. I'm still trying to live that down.

[0:21:45] KM: Yeah. I'm mad just sitting over here.

[0:21:48] GM: You could see it on your face.

[0:21:49] KM: Yeah, you can.

[0:21:50] WC: But, unfortunately, those were the things when you're – it was like having two jobs. I mean, that's what it was. It was two jobs. You worked your regular job Monday through Friday. And then at that time – because I was trying to get experience. I mean, I needed games. The more games you work, the better you get. It's like anything. And so, working on a Friday night.

Now once I got into the Southwest Conference, which I got in the Southwest Conference in 1984, they didn't allow you to work. They didn't let you work on Friday nights. You had to be at the game site on Friday.

[0:22:23] KM: Oh, to get ready.

[0:22:25] WC: To get ready. That eliminated that issue.

[0:22:28] KM: Because for everybody who doesn't know, college games on Saturdays.

[0:22:30] WC: Yes. Yes.

[0:22:31] KM: How did you get in the NFL?

[0:22:33] WC: Well, it's an interesting story. Because all I ever wanted to do is work college football. That's what my dad did. I mean, he worked college football. He worked the the Cotton Bowl, and the Orange Bowl, and the and the Sugar Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl. And I just wanted to work college football and work ball games like my dad.

Well, because of Coach Holtz, they forced Arkansas officials to start having to work Arkansas games. When I got in the league, in the Southwest Conference, not only was I working Arkansas games. My dad was. And it looks bad. I mean, it looks bad. But they changed the rules.

[0:23:11] KM: Mm-hmm. Talk about nepotism.

[0:23:12] WC: They changed the rules. I mean, Arkansas officials – even graduates of Arkansas could work Arkansas game. A graduate of Texas could work Texas game. Graduate of Texas A&M could work A&M games. They totally changed the rules. And they also brought some officials in from other states, which they had never done.

[0:23:29] KM: Which I can't tell if you like that they changed it or you didn't like that they changed it.

[0:23:31] WC: I didn't think they should have changed it. I think they should have left it like it was. But if they hadn't changed it, I might not be in the NFL.

[0:23:38] KM: Well, there you go.

[0:23:38] WC: Because the reason I applied to the NFL was because I didn't want to be working Arkansas football games. And I didn't have any other options. Because back then, in the officiating world, you had to live in a state where the school was.

In order to work in the SEC, you had to live in Florida, or Mississippi, or Alabama, or Georgia, or South – where the schools. And so, in the Southwest Conference, in order to work in the Southwest Conference, you had to live in either Texas or –

[0:24:06] KM: Oklahoma.

[0:24:08] WC: That's the way it worked. No. Well, Oklahoma was in the big 12 or big eight. They were in the big eight. My only option, if I didn't want to work in the Southwest Conference, was to go back and work in the south and where Arkansas State was. Or not officiate. Or as my dad said, "Walt, apply to the NFL."

[0:24:26] KM: Okay. And you did.

[0:24:27] WC: And I said, "Well, there's never been an official from Arkansas in the NFL. Why should I apply? I'll never get in." He said – typical sales guy, my dad. All they can say is no. I said, "Uh –"

[0:24:42] KM: It doesn't hurt to ask.

[0:24:43] WC: Anyway. I applied to the NFL. And it took a couple of years. And Doyle Jackson from Conway got in the year before I did. He was the first Arkansas official to get in. And then I got in the next season in 1989. And then Doyle decided he didn't like it. He didn't like all this travel. Because you're gone and so forth.

He resigned after two after two seasons. He just didn't like it. So then, I became the only Arkansas official. That side. In 1989, there I was in the National Football League.

[0:25:22] KM: Talk about the first day you walked on the field. Line judge again, I guess?

[0:25:25] WC: Yes. I was the line judge my first year in the NFL.

[0:25:27] KM: Only one year?

[0:25:29] WC: No. I was line judge for six. I was line judge for six seasons. Then I became the referee.

[0:25:34] KM: Talk about walking on the field the first time for an NFL game and where it was.

[0:25:38] WC: Now in the NFL, we have pre-season games. Like practice games, which was great. I needed the practice games. My very first practice game that I had was in San Francisco. They sent me to San Francisco. Now they put you in teams and they put you with the veteran guys. So you go on to a team with guys that have worked Super Bowls, that have worked – and you're going to work whatever games they work.

[0:26:00] KM: And you stay together in that pod –

[0:26:02] WC: And you stay in that group for the whole season. For a whole season.

[0:26:03] KM: Okay. All right. You get to know each other.

[0:26:04] WC: You get to know each other. You learn who's strong. I mean, all the weakness and so forth. But you work with the same guys. But that means if that team is working a Monday night football game, well, you're going to be thrown out there in your first year as working a Monday night football game.

Anyway, the first game, preseason game, I go to San Francisco. It's the Oakland Raiders playing the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers won the Super Bowl the year before. Super Bowl champs from the year before. Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice and all those guys was on the team. I walk out on the field in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Obviously, I've never been there. I didn't know any of these people. I didn't know a soul.

We walk out on the field before the game for warm-ups. And I'm obviously somewhat nervous to say the least. And so, I'm walking up the sideline of the Raiders where the Raiders bench is. And there's this guy standing there watching warm-ups. And he's got on a white shirt, white belt, white pants, white socks and white shoes. Anybody that follows the NFL is going to know who this was. But anyway, I'd recognize him as being Al Davis. Owner and general manager of the Raiders.

And so, anyway, he's standing there. And I know who he is. But I'm just this first year guy from AR and I don't want to have anything to do with him. I'm just going to walk on down the sideline like I'm supposed to. Well, when I get there close to him, he turns and sticks at his hand and he says, "Hi, Walt. How are you doing?" I'm so flabbergasted. I don't even respond. I say nothing.

[0:27:44] GM: I was going to say, where you starstruck?

[0:27:45] WC: Yes. I mean, the fact that he knew my name. And then, when I didn't say anything, he said, "Oh, Walt, tell me, how's Cynthia? How's Walter and Courtney?"

[0:27:55] KM: Oh, he is salesperson, isn't he?

[0:27:58] WC: And so, I didn't have a response to that either. I just kept walking. And he probably sitting there thinking, "Well, I knew the guy was blind, but they found one that's deaf too." You know?

But the greatest thing about that is what it showed me. I mean, it hit me right in the face. I hadn't even worked a game yet. It showed me what it takes to be successful in the National Football League. It takes preparation. It takes hard work. Look, this is the owner and general manager of the Oakland Raiders and he's taking enough time or he's got somebody to find out what the name of this first-year official is and the name of his family. So, if he has the opportunity to use it, he could.

[0:28:40] KM: I want to talk about rules of the game. And I'm bored with the tuck rule. Everything online about you is the tuck rule. Quickly, tell our people what the tuck rule is. But I want to talk about some other calls that I think are really hard to call like pass interference. I can't tell if it's past interference. Holding. Is it holding? Targeting. I mean, those are tough ones for me sitting at home on my couch and watching TV and going, "Well, I don't know. How does the guy do it?" But tell our listeners the call you're most famous for, which is the tuck rule.

[0:29:10] WC: Well, the reason that this tuck rule is so famous and people want to continue to talk about it is because what happened after my call. And it was a divisional playoff game in New England in a driving snowstorm, in a blizzard, and I'm the referee of the game. And Oakland is at New England. And Oakland is ahead 13-10 and we're inside of two minutes of the game. Now it's a blizzard.

It's 13 to 10. Nobody can score because the conditions were just horrible. It snowed like 12 inches during the game. It was just crazy.

[0:29:46] KM: It's looks like a whiteout when you look at it online.

[0:29:47] WC: Yes, it is. It is. And so –

[0:29:49] KM: It's a whiteout. I can't believe they let the game go on actually.

[0:29:52] WC: Well, they don't call football games for anything but lightning. It can rain buckets. But as long as it's lightning, you're going to play football.

[0:30:00] GM: Interesting. I didn't know that.

[0:30:02] WC: Anyway, with less than two minutes in the game and New England gets the ball on the 40-yard line with no timeouts left behind 13 to 10. And so, they've got to try to drive down there and get a field goal or a touchdown. And on the very first play, on first and ten, Brady drops back to pass. He starts to throw the ball, but he brings it down. He's changed his mind. As he brings it down, Charles Woodson hits him. The ball comes loose. And Oakland recovers it. The game's over. It's a fumble. New England can't stop the clock. The game's over. Oakland wins the game.

Well, we have replay. And so, the replay official up in the booth called down and told me to stop the game. It doesn't work like it is now the way replay is. I mean, it was all me. It was all the referee back then. I go over to the replay monitor to take a look at this play. And my replay guy says, "Walt, this is the game." And I said, "Yeah, I've got to figure that."

Anyway, when I saw the play, I was behind the play. That's where I lined up is behind the quarterback about 15 yards deep behind the defense. And when Brady started to bring the ball down, he turned his body and then Woodson, the two of them, screened me out of exactly what happened.

And back then, if you have a question between whether it's a fumble or whether it's a forward pass, you always rule fumble because you can always change it. You can change it from a fumble to an incomplete passage. But if you rule incomplete –

[0:31:36] KM: Oh, you don't get to do the review?

[0:31:37] WC: You can't change it back then. Now you can now.

[0:31:40] KM: Okay.

[0:31:41] WC: But back then, you can't. If you ruled an incomplete pass, the ball is dead, the play's over. And so, since I didn't have a clear view, I rule fumble. And I gave the ball. Oakland win the game. But with replay, I got to see the shot from the front. It clearly showed that when Brady got hit, he was bringing the ball down. And that's why it's called a tuck rule. Back then, you had to tuck the ball against your body. And then if it came out, it would be a fumble.

[0:32:09] KM: Oh, I can figure that out.

[0:32:10] WC: But he never got the ball tucked back.

[0:32:13] KM: He was still in a forward pass.

[0:32:14] WC: Forward pass motion. That's why they call it the tucker rule because he had to tuck it back –

[0:32:21] KM: To make it a fumble.

[0:32:22] WC: To make it a fumble. Which he didn't do. Now there I am looking at this. It's my call. I mean, I ruled it a fumble. Now I've got to decide. Am I going to change my call?

Now, at the time, all the announcers said it was a fumble on the broadcast. They said there's no way you're going to change this. It's a fumble. I mean, it looked like a fumble. I mean, everybody thought it was a fumble. My wife thought it was a fumble. I mean – you know? But I knew the rule.

[0:32:44] KM: But you got to follow the rules.

[0:32:45] WC: And you have to do what's right. You have to have the guts, intestinal fortitude to do what's right. I told the replay guy, I said, "This is not a fumble. This is an incomplete pass." He said, "I agree. We need to change it." I came out. Made the announcement. We gave the ball –

[0:33:02] KM: Back to Brady?

[0:33:02] WC: We gave the ball back to Brady. Second down. Still on the 40.

[0:33:05] KM: Two minutes left.

[0:33:06] WC: And the rest is history. Drives them down. Adam Vinatieri kicks a 48-yard field goal in a blizzard. Tied the game. Game went into overtime. We're in overtime. Vinatieri kicks a field goal. Wins the game 16-13. Then everybody said – I mean, the huge controver – I mean, everybody said I shouldn't have changed it. I mean, it was just a big mess. It was just unbelievable.

[0:33:29] KM: Oh, I know.

[0:33:30] WC: But everybody said it would go away because New England had to go to Pittsburgh the next week to play Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

[0:33:37] GM: Oh, and they would have – yeah.

[0:33:38] WC: And they said they're not going to beat Pittsburgh. But guess what? They went to Pittsburgh and they beat Pittsburgh. And then everybody says, "Well, they're going to have to play St. Louis in the Super Bowl." And that's when St. Louis had that great team with Kurt Warner. I mean, that offense and so forth. And said, "Oh, yeah, they're going to lose." Well, guess what? They won the Super Bowl. I never worked the Raiders again.

[0:33:58] KM: I bet.

[0:33:58] GM: Sure.

[0:34:00] WC: I mean, the rest of my career, I never had an Oakland Raider game.

[0:34:03] KM: Well, they didn't want you to get shot probably.

[0:34:05] WC: You know? So –

[0:34:07] KM: Let's talk about some of the rules real quick before we go to break. How about pass interference?

[0:34:11] WC: It was hard.

[0:34:13] KM: That one is really hard.

[0:34:14] WC: It's judgment. It's hard. In college, it's just a 15-yard penalty or spot foul, whichever – ever be more than 15 yards.

[0:34:22] KM: Yeah.

[0:34:23] WC: If the past interference is six yards, it'll be at six yards. If it's 30 yards, it's going to be a 15. We're in the NFL. It's a spot foul. And a lot of people say, "Well, they ought to just make – in the NFL, make the penalty a 15-yard penalty." Because it's too hard." It's too much as far as a 30-yard pin.

[0:34:41] KM: Yeah. It could be a Hail Mary and then you're – yeah.

[0:34:44] WC: But the problem is the NFL, the defensive players are so talented. You'd never complete a pass. Because if you get beat at 20, they're going to just tackle the guy because they know it's only going to be a 15-yard penalty. Those guys are so good. Those athletes are just so unbelievable.

[0:35:03] KM: How do you handle the stress, and the criticism and stuff? Can you compartmentalize it?

[0:35:08] WC: Sure.

[0:35:08] KM: You can.

[0:35:08] WC: Yeah. I mean, it's your job. We all have stress. I mean, you have stress worrying about what's going on at Flag and Banner. I mean, we all have stress. But you know, if you're focused on what you're doing, if you're concentrating on that kind of stuff while it's going, the stress for me was more before the game.

[0:35:32] KM: Me too. Once I'm in the fight, I'm ready to go. I'm ready.

[0:35:38] WC: Yeah. And to me, the more prepared you are, the better you feel. It's the same thing if you're taking a test. I mean, if you think you're prepared, to me, you're going to do better. That was the whole deal, is making sure that your preparation. And that was something that was very important to me as the crew chief. The one that's responsible for all the other guys on your team and so forth.

[0:36:01] KM: Is there a lot of preparation? Do you have to know a lot about –

[0:36:02] WC: Yes.

[0:36:03] KM: Oh, really? You have to know a lot about the other team?

[0:36:04] WC: Yes. Well, it's helpful. It's helpful to know what kind of formations they run. Are they going to use a lot of motion? Do they do like the Cowboys when they go on the line? When they used to go up and then go down. And what does the center do with the football? Does he mess around with the ball? And so, that's why we are able to officiate stuff because we're not watching the ball. As a fan, you watch the ball.

[0:36:30] KM: Yes.

[0:36:30] WC: Everybody. TV watches the ball. We do not watch the ball. We watch in front of the play. So we know what's going on. So you just know where the ball is out of your peripheral vision. I never knew whether a pass was complete or incomplete. Because my responsibility was to watch the quarterback.

[0:36:50] KM: Oh. And then the other guy down there is watching the interference.

[0:36:53] WC: The other guys, they're watching the receivers and so forth. And people would say, "Whoa. Why didn't you change that? Why didn't you tell that guy he was wrong?" I wasn't looking there.

[0:37:02] KM: You're working on your specific spot.

[0:37:03] WC: I was doing my responsibilities, my job. And you know, that's the thing. That's the thing we all have to understand, is you have to – if you're going to be successful, you have to be able to trust the people in your company or whatever to do their job. Because I wasn't good enough to do everybody's job.

[0:37:21] KM: You know, it's such big money. They've got to have all that good – you've got to try to be as perfect as you can. I mean, it's huge money.

[0:37:29] WC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. And that's why the league is paranoid about gambling and all that kind of stuff. And all the things they do with your background checks, and not wanting you to be on social media and not being involved in any of that.

[0:37:45] KM: Yeah. Tell our listeners that you can't be on social media.

[0:37:48] WC: No. No.

[0:37:48] KM: I think that's interesting.

[0:37:50] WC: You cannot go into any type of gambling establishment during the season.

[0:37:56] KM: Whether you're a player, coach or – or just the reference?

[0:37:57] WC: No. No. No. No. No. No. The rules are different for players, and coaches and everything.

[0:38:01] KM: Okay. Just referees cannot be on any social media.

[0:38:04] WC: We are the integrity of the game. The officials are the integrity of the game. And so, we can't go in those places. Now when the season is over, then you can go, but you have to tell New York you're going. For instance, in February, if I wanted to go to Oaklawn, to the racetrack, I had to tell New York that I was going and what days I was going to be there.

[0:38:30] KM: Wow, that's a lot of commitment. All right. This is a great place to take a break. We'll continue our conversation with Mr. Walt Coleman, the third man with two very illustrious careers. His Coleman Dairy legacy. And at the time of his retirement in 2018, the longest-running NFL referee. Are you still the longest-running NFL referee? Or has anybody beat you?

[0:38:46] WC: Well, were a couple guys that had been in longer than me. At the time, I was in for 30 years. But there's two guys who were in 31 years and so forth.

[0:38:56] KM: All right. Still to come, the facts, the feelings and the business of NFL league. Skills, egos, power money. And I have a word association game plan for Walt. You know, he loves a good game. We'll be right back.


[0:39:08] TW: It's a special time in the history of the Dreamland Ballroom on the top floor of the Flag and Banner building in Downtown Little Rock. Special because the funds from our African-American Civil Rights Preservation Grant have almost been totally used for the elevator edition and the accessibility renovations we've made. But now is a great time to make a personal donation to this historic site. Because the family of flagandbanner.com will match every dollar you give up to $50,000. Look for their corporate matching campaign link at dreamlandballroom.org. Remember, the family of flagandbanner.com will match every dollar you give up to $50,000. Look for their corporate matching campaign link at dreamlandballroom.org.


[0:39:57] KM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm talking with Mr. Walt Coleman III, a Coleman Dairy descendant. But his true legacy may be his NFL career. Number 65 referee from 1989 to 2018. When you retired, how old were you?

[0:40:14] WC: 66.

[0:40:15] KM: Is it hard to run up and down the field at 66?

[0:40:17] WC: Yes. But for me, the most difficult thing was the mental change over the period of time. Mentally, you're not as fast. You're not as quick as you get older. It's just not the same. And so, when you're working the referee position where you've got to know the rules, and you've got to react immediately and you've got that microphone where you've got to turn that thing on and you're live on television. You've got to explain what happens.

And so, that was physically – I probably could have – but I just felt like it was time. I mean, I'd been in there for 30 years. I mean, I've done it a long time. And so, I just felt so fortunate that I had the opportunity to do it that long. And the players that –

[0:41:08] KM: Is there a favorite player?

[0:41:10] WC: Well, the player that I like the most just because the type of player he was and type of person he was on the field was Barry Sanders.

[0:41:18] KM: Really?

[0:41:20] WC: He was unbelievable running back. But he was a class person. He would never spike the ball. He would get up and hand you the ball. I mean, he was just a class.

[0:41:31] KM: Who'd he play for?

[0:41:33] WC: Detroit. And he retired after nine years. He had a short career. But he was number two and in the number of yards. But I was on the field with Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice, and Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders, and Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre, and Peyton and Eli.

[0:41:51] KM: That brings me to our game. All right. You get to do one word. Because these are people that you've been on the field with. And you can only do one word to describe each of these people. And you've mentioned him a couple times, Joe Montana.

[0:42:04] WC: Cool.

[0:42:06] KM: He is cool.

[0:42:07] WC: And when people had asked me who was the best quarterback that I've ever officiated, I would always say Montana until Brady won six Super Bowls.

[0:42:18] KM: Oh, yeah.

[0:42:19] WC: And then I had to kind of start fudging.

[0:42:23] KM: Tony Dungy. How do you say his last –

[0:42:24] WC: Tony Dungy. Class.

[0:42:29] KM: John Elway.

[0:42:30] WC: One word, huh?

[0:42:32] KM: You can do two if you want to.

[0:42:33] WC: Strong.

[0:42:34] KM: Really?

[0:42:36] WC: Yeah, he's the only guy I could see running to the right and throwing it 50 yards back to the left. He said never throw the ball back all the way across the field. Elway could. I mean, he was big, strong and –

[0:42:49] KM: One of my favorites, Emmitt Smith.

[0:42:54] WC: Yeah. He was a great running back. He was a jokester.

[0:42:59] KM: Really?

[0:43:00] WC: Jokester. He liked to stand – when he went in, he'd like to stand behind you and play around with you when the game –

[0:43:05] KM: He's got that little grin on his face.

[0:43:07] WC: Yeah. When the game was over. Walter Payton, great player in the National Football League. He retired the year before I got in the league. And my very first regular season game in the NFL was in Chicago. I had Cincinnati at Chicago. My very first regular season in an NFL game. And my shoe kept coming untied. And I couldn't figure out what –

[0:43:27] KM: And he was untying it?

[0:43:28] GM: No.

[0:43:31] WC: He was untying my shoe. And he had history of that as far as coming out of the piles and untying people's shoes and so forth. But, yeah.

[0:43:39] KM: Troy Aikman. Uh-oh. He wouldn't going to say anything nice just then. Was he?

[0:43:45] WC: You know, those guys were so good and so focused. I was going to say focused. But that's the one – I would use that for Payton.

[0:43:54] KM: Peyton Manning, you would call focused. I feel sorry for him because he was such a great player for so long but not long enough. I mean, he was such a great player but not long enough. Because Tom Brady came up right behind him and knocked him off the pedestal.

[0:44:07] WC: They were just both great quarterbacks.

[0:44:08] KM: I know.

[0:44:10] WC: And a lot of it has to do with the rest of your team, you know? And so –

[0:44:15] KM: What do you think about Belichick?

[0:44:16] WC: Well, he and I obviously get along for fine because of the tuck rule. I mean everybody in New England I got along with really well. I mean, Coach Belichick and I had a good relationship. I mean, me being in the league 30 years, I mean, I was around a long time. So, any of the coaches that were around for any period of time, I got to connect with them pretty good. Because, I mean, I was the one that they always wanted to talk to. I mean, they could argue –

[0:44:45] KM: Sure. You're pulling the strings.

[0:44:46] WC: They could holler with the guys over there on the side and in front of them. But eventually, they want to talk to me.

[0:44:51] KM: How about Brett Favre?

[0:44:52] WC: Fun. He just loved playing the game.

[0:44:57] KM: How about this one? Jerry Jones?

[0:44:59] WC: I mean, I knew Jerry. He bought the Cowboys the same year I got in the league. '89. That was his first year to own the Cowboys.

[0:45:05] KM: Oh, really?

[0:45:07] WC: Yes. And so, my first year in the league was '89. For me, even though I knew Jerry and knew him from Little Rock. And he knew my dad and, I mean, everything. When I'd have the Cowboys, I totally ignored them. Because I – people see things and they draw conclusions. And so, you have to be very careful from my standpoint as a referee. I would never talk to any coach for a very long – for any extended – because everybody thinks that they're to get an advantage.

[0:45:38] KM: Aha. What about Troy Aikman?

[0:45:42] WC: He was just a really good quarterback. To me, the greatest player at a particular position was Jerry Rice. And I worked a lot of his games as far as he's a receiver. But, I mean, he was –

[0:45:56] WC: What do you think about Patrick Mahomes now? I loved watching that kid.

[0:46:00] WC: I hate working those kind of quarterbacks.

[0:46:02] KM: Why?

[0:46:04] WC: Because they run around. See, the referee's supposed to follow him. You're supposed to chase him. You're supposed to be with him. So that if they get illegally hit or something. But, see – and he runs around.

[0:46:16] KM: Aha.

[0:46:18] WC: I mean, he's great quarterback. He's fun. But those are the guys – I like the guys that stood in one place, like Marino, and Eli, and Brady. Those guys –

[0:46:27] KM: Oh, yeah. Brady doesn't move.

[0:46:27] WC: Those guys stand in one place. But you take guys like Michael Vick, and Steve Young and a lot of these new guys that run around. They make it a lot more difficult from an officiating standpoint because you don't know where they're going to be. And they're going to be running. And that's what the defense wants.

[0:46:49] KM: Oh, they like that?

[0:46:50] WC: Well, yeah. Because they can kill the quarterback. And that's what they're out there for.

[0:46:56] KM: I would have thought they like stay still.

[0:46:57] WC: Because when he's a runner, he doesn't have all the protections. When I first got in the league, they didn't have all these protections for the quarterbacks. But now you can't hit the quarterback low. Can't hit him high. Can't hit him late. Can't hit him with your helmet. I mean, they've put in a lot of rules to protect the quarterback. Because when your starting quarterback goes down, the game deteriorates in a hurry. I tell people it's like a car wreck on every play.

[0:47:20] KM: It absolutely is.

[0:47:20] WC: I mean, they're running. These big guys, big, huge guys running into each other on every play.

[0:47:27] KM: And leaping into the air. So vulnerable to grab a ball and then just getting hit and thrown to the ground. I'm like, "I don't know how to do it."

[0:47:34] WC: Yeah, it's –

[0:47:36] KM: I think I already know the answer to this. But is it passion for the game or the money that makes a person want to do that job for so long? NFL. Is it passion –

[0:47:43] WC: Yeah, it's the passion. It's the passion for the game. I mean, what it takes to get there? I mean, I've got to be honest. The money became somewhat significant after I had been in the league a long time. When I first got in, it was $600 a game. 15 games, $9,000.

[0:48:08] KM: Oh, my gosh. I wouldn't do it for that.

[0:48:11] WC: – is what I made to travel all over the United States. Now, they paid for your travel and all that. I mean, but that's what I got. I mean, it became much more lucrative over that.

[0:48:22] KM: For the players and everybody.

[0:48:23] WC: Yeah. You don't get involved with all that for the money. But it became nice. But it's being involved. I mean, at some point, you get to where you can't play. You can't play anymore. And this was a way – officiating was a way for me to stay involved in sports, and athletics, and being out there on that field and getting that same feeling of being involved.

Plus, you're helping – at least at the high school and college level. I mean, you're helping people do what they've dreamed to do. I mean, the greatest thing in the world is on a Friday night that those high school kids getting to go out there and do that and play football. I mean, there's – and so, that's why there's a shortage of officials.

[0:49:12] KM: There is?

[0:49:13] WC: Oh, yes. Because who wants to do that? I mean, who wants to drive –

[0:49:17] GM: Work seven days a week?

[0:49:20] WC: Who wants to drive for 30 minutes or an hour or so forth for $60 and be abused for three hours? I mean –

[0:49:30] KM: It's the love of the game. It's the passion.

[0:49:33] WC: Yes. But being involved for me was the big thing. And nothing – I mean, and I've worked some huge, huge football games in my lifetime. But nothing gave me more happiness than it was working on a Friday night football game with those kids out there. Because I just remember what it was like when I was playing high school football and how important it was. And what it meant as far as to be able to do that.

[0:50:08] KM: Do you watch a lot of games now that you're retired?

[0:50:11] WC: Yeah, because I like football.

[0:50:12] KM: You watch it all the time?

[0:50:13] WC: I mean, football to me is –

[0:50:17] KM: Do you re-watch games?

[0:50:19] WC: No.

[0:50:20] KM: My husband does. He re-watches games all the time.

[0:50:23] GM: Really?

[0:50:24] KM: Yes. On his phone.

[0:50:25] WC: Now I do drive my wife crazy by going backwards during the game and go back and watch plays. And you get behind so forth –

[0:50:33] KM: Well, I like that. Then you can skip the commercials.

[0:50:36] WC: Anyway – but, yeah. I've watched a lot more football in the past and even last year than I will this year. Because my son was in the NFL.

[0:50:47] KM: What?

[0:50:48] WC: My son was in the NFL for eight seasons. But he decided after last season that he didn't want to be away.

[0:50:56] KM: What position?

[0:50:57] WC: He was a line judge for eight years. He worked two playoff games. But he didn't want to be away from it. He's got a boy, nine and one seven. And they live in Texas and they play hockey. And their hockey games are on Sundays. And last year they played 48 hockey games and he saw two. And he decided that his boys were more important than being involved in –

[0:51:19] KM: Yeah. There's that little window of opportunity. They're only a home for a little while.

[0:51:23] WC: That's exactly right.

[0:51:24] KM: He can probably go back.

[0:51:25] WC: Anyway. I watched a lot because I watched all his games. I mean, obviously, I watched every one of his games. I had to critique him because he critiqued me his whole life.

[0:51:35] KM: Yeah. Yeah. Sure, he did.

[0:51:38] WC: I had to critique him.

[0:51:40] KM: All right. Here's your gift. Parting gift. Thank you, Walt. I've enjoyed it. You got a desk set for – a US and Arkansas flag for your desk. And we're going to get your flagpole out there at Coleman Dairy. I'm going to drive by and look at it and see where we can put it.

[0:51:49] GM: Yeah.

[0:51:50] WC: Yeah.

[0:51:51] KM: To our listeners, I want to thank you in closing for spending time with us. We hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening. And that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I'm Kerry McCoy and I'll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.


[0:52:13] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show, email me, Gray. gray@flagandbanner.com.

All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcast wherever you like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.


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