Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira still gets to make the tough calls on games

Mike Pereira does his Facebook live show at the Fox studios in Los Angeles on Nov. 20.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Beneath his natty three-piece suit, Mike Pereira wears thermal underwear. The millions of football fans who tune in every fall Sunday would have no idea that he’s clomping around in fur-lined UGG boots that are just below the view of the TV camera. His glass-walled workroom at Fox Sports studios, appropriately nicknamed the “Ice Cube,” has the thermostat twisted down to a crisp 50 degrees to combat the hot lights and keep everyone alert.

Without question, Pereira has the coolest job in the NFL.

Pereira, the league’s former head of officiating, is in his seventh season as the network’s rules analyst. He’s entrusted to explain and interpret the intricate and sometimes controversial calls in pro football. That includes making predictions about what officials will decide when they stop the action for replay reviews. Pereira’s job didn’t exist before he came along, yet now it’s a standard for several networks.

“People perceive that I’m the guy at the bar who has all the answers,” said Pereira, 66, who will be in the broadcast booth in Dallas for the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game against Washington. “They look at me as the go-to guy, and I like that.”

Being the go-to guy sometimes means weighing in with an opinion that runs counter to the officials and/or to the Fox broadcasters at the game. Sunday, he did both, taking issue with the zebras for giving quarterback Sam Bradford special treatment when he lined up at receiver, and butting heads with color analyst Troy Aikman over a roughing-the-passer call.

Pereira, who lives in Sacramento, flies to Los Angeles each week and spends weekends at the Westside studio. The “Ice Cube” has two long desks lined with 16 large-screen computer monitors, where fellow Fox employees sit and track games. There are six TVs showing the network’s games on one wall. Pereira wears an earpiece and is constantly toggling from game to game to keep up with calls on the field. At his fingertips is a switchboard that allows him to instantly connect with the directors in on-site production trucks. Sometimes, during commercials, he’ll be patched through to the broadcast team in the booth.


A typical three minutes might sound like:

“Put Cincinnati in my ear, please …”

“Clean touchdown by Chicago.”

Mike Pereira watches a football game inside the officiating command center at the Fox studios in Los Angeles on Nov. 20.
Mike Pereira watches a football game inside the officiating command center at the Fox studios in Los Angeles on Nov. 20.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )

“Ball didn’t move in Minnesota when 19 went to the ground. I can even see that how many thousands of miles away.”

“That was definitely a fumble in Kansas City. Put Kansas City in my ear, please …”

People at home might see him as the genial know-it-all at the bar, but really Pereira doesn’t have the luxury of truly watching any game in particular. Often, in the frenetic pace of everything happening around him, he doesn’t know the score or even which team is winning.

“I lose track of which game is which,” he said. “All I try to do is go from play to play to play.”

There’s an orange X on the floor marking his spot for appearing on air, with a remote-control camera perched in the corner of the room. Most of the time, it’s just his voice and a picture of him that shows up during a game, but occasionally he will get up from his swivel chair, sit on the corner of his desk, and deliver a pithy, 20-second monologue on live TV.

While all of this is going on, two Fox employees are monitoring Pereira’s Twitter feed, which has about 300,000 followers. They field questions, then type his responses as tweets. Sometimes, his followers turn to him for answers about the Canadian Football League, baseball, and hockey.

“I can get out of my area of expertise pretty quick,” he said.

So polished and relaxed is Pereira that Fox NFL Sunday colleague Howie Long jokes it’s as if he was computer-generated for the job.

“The only thing that’s more complicated than the U.S. tax code is officiating,” Long said. “The layers, the nuance, the subtlety, the speed, the pace, the situations that pop up. Every week in every game, to have someone like him. He’s really the best by a wide margin.”

Added Long: “I don’t always agree with him. But then, hell, I didn’t always agree with officials anyway.”

Pereira takes pride in not being a yes man, and calling them as he sees them, even if he ruffles some feathers along the way. He concedes he didn’t like being criticized when he was an on-field official — even when he knew he was wrong — so he’s careful not to use words like “horrible” or “blown” or “ridiculous” when describing calls. He calls himself an advocate for officials, and says they’re more willing to accept his critiques because he has done their job.

Pereira’s career as a rules analyst had a memorable start. His first day on the job coincided with Calvin Johnson’s apparent game-winning touchdown catch in an opener at Chicago. In what would be one of the most controversial plays in memory, officials ruled that the Detroit Lions star receiver didn’t hold on to the ball long enough to complete the catch. Pereira correctly predicted the officials’ decision before they made it … and got a standing ovation from his new Fox colleagues for doing so.

“It’s not only what Mike does on the air, but when you’re a producer he gets in your ear and says, ‘Hey, Troy was right on that one,’ ” said Fox’s Richie Zyontz, coordinating producer on the No. 1 crew of Joe Buck and Aikman. “Troy wants to know, ‘What does Mike think?’ when he goes out on a limb with a call or interpretation. It’s a steady dialogue.

“They’re not always in lockstep. Troy’s opinionated, so he might disagree with something, too.”

A onetime baseball player at Santa Clara University, Pereira spent 14 seasons as a college football official and two more as an NFL line judge. In his nine years running the league’s officiating department, he was instrumental in 76 rules changes, including the implementation of the current replay-review system.

His autobiography, “After Further Review,” came out this summer and chronicles his life, from surviving cancer at 25 to his rise through the officiating ranks.

The idea of putting an official on TV was the brainchild of David Hill, the former Fox executive whose other innovations include the box that constantly shows a game’s time and score in the corner of the screen, the virtual first-down line, the Red Zone Channel, and the glowing puck in hockey.

In the fall of 2008, minutes after Fox reported that Pereira would be retiring from the league after the season, Hill called him and said the network had plans for him. Several months later, Pereira and network executives mapped out his future. This summer, he signed a six-year contract extension with Fox.

With his salt-and-pepper hair combed back, his rectangular hipster glasses, and huge collection of suits — all from the J. C. Penney collection of Fox co-host Michael Strahan — Pereira is part football expert and part fashion plate. Someone from the show’s wardrobe department snaps a picture of Pereira and the other on-air personalities each day to ensure they never wear a shirt-and-tie combination twice.

In a floor below the studio there are huge rooms filled with clothes and thousands of neckties accumulated over 20 years, organized in Smithsonian-worthy sections such as skinny ties, extra-long ties, bow ties, and even a pocket-square section.

Pereira is often confused for Barry Weiss, one of the stars of A&E’s “Storage Wars,” a reality series about people bidding on the contents of abandoned storage units. Once, Pereira met a mutual acquaintance who put him in touch with Weiss.

“Barry, it’s Mike Pereira from Fox,” he recalls texting. “People are always confusing me for you. Has anyone ever asked you if you look like Mike Pereira?”

Weiss wasn’t game to play.

“No,” he texted back, ending the conversation.

Most people can’t get enough of talking to Pereira. It seems everyone has an opinion on the NFL and officiating.

“I have the Fox NFL theme song as the ringer on my phone,” Pereira said. “It’s hilarious, because the plane will land, my phone will ring, and the other passengers will hear it. It always happens, somebody says, ‘I thought you were Mike Pereira. But after I heard that, I know for sure.’”

Anyone could make that call.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer