Walt Coleman

Walt Coleman III
Nationality  United States
Occupation NFL 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.


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] on February 23, 2009, joining his father, Buddy Coleman, a 1994 inductee.[3]

Officiating career

Early years

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

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". He was the alternate referee of Super Bowls XXXIV and XLII.

Coleman's 2016 NFL officiating crew consists of umpire Jeff Rice, head linesman Derick Bowers, line judge Kevin Codey, field judge Terry Brown, side judge Alan Eck, and back judge Terrence Miles.[5]

Notable games

The Tuck Rule Game

Main article: 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."[6]

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.[6] 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'."[4]

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.[7] In March 2013, league owners voted 29–1 to abolish the rule. Additionally, as of 2016, Coleman has never officiated a game involving the Raiders due to the controversy of the questionable reversal.[8][9]

2003 AFC Championship Game

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.[10] 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.[10] 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".[11]

2012 Thanksgiving 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,[12] but no whistle was blown and Forsett ended getting back up to run for an 81-yard touchdown.[13] 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.[14] 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.[13][14] 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.[15] 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.[16]


  1. http://www.footballzebras.com/2015/04/08/12607/
  2. Bailey, Jim (2009-02-14). "Arkansas Hall of Fame inductees play beat the clock". Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
  3. Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. "Buddy Coleman". Retrieved 2009-02-14. Archived November 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. 1 2 Green, Johnny (2005-06-23). "Milkman to flagman". Texarkana Gazette.
  5. http://www.footballzebras.com/2016/05/23/officiating-crews-for-the-2016-season/
  6. 1 2 "ESPN 25 - 48: 'Tuck' play spurs Patriots to OT playoff win". Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  7. Sando, Mike (2008-01-25). "Reviewing instant replay's controversial playoff history". ESPN. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
  8. "Walt Coleman at Pro Football Reference".
  9. Sando, Mike (2008-07-11). "League cautious when addressing grievances". ESPN. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
  10. 1 2 Borges, Rob (2004-03-31). "NFL will crack down on pass interference". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-11-27.
  11. "NFL.com — Laying down the Law in New England". Archived from the original on 2005-05-05. Retrieved 2006-07-07.
  12. "Refs blow call in Texans-Lions game, allowing 81-yard TD by Justin Forsett". SBNation. Retrieved 2012-11-25.
  13. 1 2 "The red-flag-no-review rule has to go". Profootballtalk. Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  14. 1 2 "Strange rule leads to bizarre call". Fox Sports. Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  15. "NFL to examine replay rule from Lions-Texans game". Associated Press. SI.com. 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  16. "Giants owner wants challenge rule reviewed (and changed)". USA Today. 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2012-11-23.

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