How Former Linebacker Terry Killens Transitioned to an NFL Referee

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Few National Football League (NFL) players transition into officiating after their active playing careers. Many go into broadcasting, become coaches or leave the game entirely to pursue other interests. Terry Killens remained in the game and is an official. 

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However, it’s not something he thought about during his playing days. Keep reading to find out how Killens became an NFL referee.

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Terry Killens’ Playing Days

Terry Killens makes history. Video Credit: WLWT

Terry Killens went to Purcell Marian High School in Ohio and then proceeded to Pennsylvania State University where he joined the Penn State Nittany Lions. After graduating from college, the Houston Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans drafted him as a third-round 74th pick in the NFL draft.

He played for the Oilers for four years, from 1996 to 2000, playing 14 games in his debut season and a total of 16 throughout his career. Perhaps one of the most memorable moments of his NFL playing career was appearing in Super Bowl XXXIV with the Titans. Killens was a substitute but wouldn’t win a championship ring as the St. Louis Rams won the title.   

“The former linebacker recalls this game fondly. “I enjoyed this game with my family. So many people were in Atlanta on that Super Bowl Sunday. All the sounds and celebrities around made this great,” he told CNN.

The following season, Killens moved to the San Francisco 49ers, where he only stayed for a season before joining the Seattle Seahawks. Even though he was hoping to join the Cincinnati Bengals, this was his last team. 

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Turning Point

Killens talks about officiating the Super Bowl. Video Credit: LOCAL 12

Marvin Lewis, who was part of the Bengals, told him that he wouldn’t get a shot because cheaper players were eyeing the same role. Killens admits this was a turning point for him. Instead of chasing another team, he decided to hang his boots.

Killens tried his hands on a few things. He went back to his high school in Cincinnati to coach but it didn’t work out. He tried radio and the results were the same. A friend then presented the idea of officiating in basketball. He did so during some winter games and followed this with a coaching class after which he went back to his hometown to officiate football games.

He enjoyed it because he was learning and it helped him to relive the memories – regain the locker room feel and the camaraderie. Everything he missed after he stopped playing. 

His next step was referring varsity games and as his workload increased, his wife Rhonda carried a lot of responsibilities at home. Unfortunately, he lost her to breast cancer.

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Moving Up the Ranks

How Former Linebacker Terry Killens Transitioned to an NFL Referee
NFL Game. Source: Photo by Myron Mott on Unsplash

Killens’ skills improvement led to him being promoted to officiate Division III college games. Some of the assignments he ended up with include the Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship and a Division II college playoff. However, he was torn between the two and sought advice from Bobby Sagers.

Things became clearer and Killens worked to get to the top of his officiating career. He worked on Division I FCS and later on was a supplement official at the American Athletics Conference. His ability was obvious and those who saw him praised him for his work and admired his accountability. 

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NFL officiating

Killens was advised to apply for the NFL Officiating Development Program where he met the Bengal’s coach. In 2018, after working in a pre-season game, he became an NFL referee. 

Killens was exceptional in his work and within four seasons, he became a four-time Super Bowl official, a moment he described as a “huge accomplishment, and a culmination of his work”. 

During Super Bowl LVIII, he was part of Bill Vinovich’s crew, a game that the Kansas City Chiefs won over the San Francisco 49ers. Killens’ is the first person to play in the Super Bowl and also officiate in it. 

Killens is proud of wearing the stripes. Part of his job is to oversee the game by controlling the atmosphere of the game. He understands so well the art of tackle but now has to ensure the players do it within the rules. 

It’s fair to say that Terry Killens has done it all. From wearing helmets to blowing the whistle, from playing in the greatest show in sports to officiating it, he’s come full circle and is now one of the best NFL officials in the game.

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