Mike Carey’s problems come more from form than substance

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In many jobs, the ability to perform successfully hinges on the ability to communicate effectively. For anyone who appears on TV (and speaks while doing so), the ability to communicate well becomes critical.

For oft-criticized CBS officiating expert Mike Carey, his actual or perceived struggles in the job have much more to do with his ability to communicate than his ability to accurately predict the outcome of replay reviews.

Two years ago, when I heard that CBS had hired Carey, my reaction was this, “Good move. He communicates very well as a referee.  He’ll be perfect for the job.”

During the 2014 season, Carey’s first on the job with CBS, the differences in communication requirements for the two jobs became obvious.

A referee communicates in narrow, short, tightly-constructed sound bites: “Holding. Offense. Number 65. 10 yard penalty. Still first down.”

It’s a small universe of possible messages that converts most referees (i.e., anyone not named Ed Hochuli) into the human equivalent of Woody from Toy Story. That’s why Hochuli’s verbosity gets noticed. He’s not a doll with a string who quickly declares “there’s a snake in my boots” and shuts up. He strays from the script, often extremely far from the script. (It’s also why Ben Dreith’s “he’s giving him the business” continues to be one of the most memorable officiating moments in history.)

For the job Carey currently has, there’s no menu of phrases that get slapped together to communicate a message without often even constructing an actual sentence. For anyone who has to speak on the air in extemporaneous fashion, it takes time and repetitions to master the task of producing a clear explanation that was formulated on the fly. Through two years, Carey hasn’t mastered that skill. The real question is whether CBS will give him enough time and opportunities to do so, before eliminating the position or hiring someone else for it.

It appears that, at least for now, CBS plans to circle the wagons and stand behind Carey, despite the obvious difference between his performance that the performance of FOX’s Mike Pereira. A new interview of Carey at TheMMQB.com feels almost like part of the effort to prop Carey up, with a headline declaring that Carey has a “tough job,” introductory paragraphs that defend Carey’s 0-for-1 performance in Super Bowl 50, and a Q&A that gives him plenty of opportunities to offer excuses for his struggles.

For example, Carey at one point explains that he has fewer replay angles as a commentator than he had as a referee.

“When I’m on the field, I go to the box and I tell them exactly what I want to see, and then I tell them to freeze it or roll it slowly. When I’m on TV, I’m subject to whatever they show, so I don’t have any control there,” Carey said.

But that’s where the skill of speaking extemporaneously in a frank, self-aware way becomes even more important. Even with limited time, Carey could say something like, “Maybe the referee has access to an angle that we don’t” in order to properly gauge the expectations of the audience — and to make an eventual mistake seem like less of a mistake.

Carey also tried to compare his effort to predict rulings with efforts by others in the media to predict the outcome of games.

“[N]ot unlike all the other experts who chose who was going to win the AFC Championship, I make errors,” Carey said. “Everybody makes errors.”

He’s right that everyone makes errors (and I know that as well as aynone), but it’s not right to compare errors in picking winners to errors in analyzing the outcome of a replay review. The latter isn’t even a prediction; it’s an assessment of what the ruling should be. And the best officiating experts will make it look like their assessments are more accurate than the official NFL assessment, in the event the two differ.

With Carey, his inability to communicate beyond saying “holding, offense, number 65, 10 yard penalty, still first down,” has contributed to the impression that he’s clumsily throwing a dart, not that he’s analyzing in a persuasive, authoritative fashion what he sees — and that even if the referee explains it a different way, Carey is right and the referee is wrong.

Yes, the job is tough. Yes, the communication requirements are fundamentally different. And, yes, the fact that Mike Pereira makes it look so easy makes the job even tougher for someone who, through two full seasons, has not yet shown he’s suited for it.

37 responses to “Mike Carey’s problems come more from form than substance

  1. He’s a buffoon. Every call he does is wrong every time. And he has an arrogant stench about him.

    Get him and Charles Davis out of the broadcasting booth and it’s instantly ten times better.

  2. I still don’t get it. He’s usually right and they have it wrong on the field. Like the catch call in the first quarter of the Super Bowl. He communicates just fine to me and his insight makes the game better.

  3. vancouversportsbro says:
    Feb 12, 2016 4:05 PM
    He’s a buffoon. Every call he does is wrong every time. And he has an arrogant stench about him.

    Get him and Charles Davis out of the broadcasting booth and it’s instantly ten times better.


    Every call is not wrong and I don’t see why he seems arrogant. He seems direct and intelligent, but not arrogant.

  4. “the ability to perform successfully hinges on the ability to communicate effectively. ”
    …and yet Dion Sanders and Michael Irvin are still on TV.

  5. As soon as he said it was a completion in the Super Bowl, it was obvious they would overturn it. CBS would be better off consulting a random fan in the stands.

  6. I liked Carey until he thought that Cotchery caught that ball. No sane person could think that. He should be institutionalized, along with anyone who thinks that was a catch.

  7. timtomandkevin says:
    Feb 12, 2016 4:09 PM

    Ball hit the ground


    A) not that you saw with your eyes, because the ball was never on the ground in any replays.

    B). The ball can touch the ground if it is in control and doesn’t help with the catch or knock the ball loose.

    You can argue that the ground did knock the ball loose, but that isn’t on the video. The ball came loose but no evidence it was become of the ground.

  8. Nah men, sometimes the replay is conclusive, but for some strange reason Carey takes the opposite outcome. I would say its less of his communication skill, but more of an inability strangely enough to know what is going on. I will go out on a limb and state, if i have a tv set and i can tell, there shouldnt be any reason he cant.

  9. His problem is that he makes obviously incorrect assessments that then get refuted by the actual officials. But at least he makes them with confidence.

  10. Okay, but you can’t hold the Super Bowl call against him. He got that right. What he should have said was, “that call should be overturned but the official probably won’t have the balls to do it.”

  11. I love Mike Carey. Best call he ever made was the non-call allowing Eli to shake free of the NE defense and complete the helmet catch. He can be wrong on tv on every call for the rest of his life as far as I’m concerned and I’ll still love him!

  12. He’s right that everyone makes errors (and I know that as well as aynone)

    HaHa…I saw what you did there. Very subtle

  13. Carey has made me appreciate Mike Pereira. Dude was a very good official but he sucks at the TV gig. Mike Pereira had a job that better prepared him, he wasn’t a game official.

  14. Justintuck likes Carey for the non call, actually two non holding calls on the same play. Pats fans like Walt Anderson for the tuck rule call against the Raiders and raiders fans like Ben Dreith for the phantom hit to the head call against sugar bear Hamilton on the snake.

    I guess it all goes around.

  15. Hopefully he will never go to law school and learn how to construct a long and convoluted essay out of a straightforward matter, like getting calls wrong.

  16. Did the ball hit the ground or didn’t it? Everyone seems to agree the replay angles were all inconclusive on that point either way; therefore the only thing to do is to let the call on the field stand, which is exactly what happened.

    What Carey seems to be unable to properly evaluate is whether there’s *sufficient evidence* for an overturn. He seems to operate under the assumption that just about every review has to end with a definitive ruling. He’s acting as if it’s a binary choice when there’s actually a third option.

    I’d like to see some stats on “call stands” vs “call confirmed” vs “ruling changed”. (further broken down by red-flag or booth review). If I had to guess, I bet around half are “play stands” with the other half split between confirmed & overturned.

  17. He needs to learn to hedge his statements and offer more explanation.

    Good: “If the ball bobbles in the receiver’s hand when it hits the ground, he never had full possession, so the catch should be ruled incomplete. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to overturn the call, but we’ll see what they say.”

    Bad: “That’s a catch. It will be ruled incomplete.”

    He tends toward the latter far more often than the former, and that’s his main problem. It’s somewhat ironic that there are all these articles about him in the wake of the Superbowl; I think that was the one time he got it completely right – he explained, he hedged, and I agree with his judgement over the refs’.

  18. Odd, I always thought Carey’s crew was one of the worst, they seemed to call many more penalties than average. But I like his analysis on TV even though it frequently differs from the call on the field.

  19. Clearly ESPN doesn’t agree with the first paragraph as they continue to put inarticulate ex-jocks like Tim Tebow and Ray Lewis on air!

  20. The NFL made the networks plant a ref on their coverage to make their horrible calls more palatable.
    Pereira has a different style but does the same thing. He agrees with the calls made on the field just like Carey does. Nobody believes them after video evidence shows otherwise so just get them off the air NFL.

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