This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on May 10, 2022.
by Malcolm Butler
The road to the NFL is never easy.
As a young boy, Max Causey had dreams of making it to professional football.
Little did he know those dreams would come true at age 41.
The Ruston native and former Louisiana Tech QB got a call last week from Gary Slaughter, welcoming him to the NFL … as a down judge on an officiating crew.
“There are so many really good officials in college that are so deserving of a spot,” said Causey. “Things just have to kind of align. For whatever reason, God has chosen to bless me and allowed a position to open up. It’s a huge honor. It’s also very humbling to know that there are so many other college officials that are very deserving, but I was blessed to be given this opportunity.”
Financial advisor for Merrill Lynch by day. NFL official by night.
Or something like that.
Causey will participate in the NFL’s new hire orientation in a couple of weeks followed by a one-day spring clinic with the rest of his buddies in the striped shirts, working through video and talking through expectations.
“I will get assigned a mini-camp; possibly a training camp,” he said. “I will work a full preseason schedule and then work a full NFL schedule. You don’t dip your toe in. You get hired and go full steam ahead.”
Causey, who prepped at West Monroe High School before signing at Louisiana Tech and lettering for the Bulldogs for four seasons, said he started officiating high school games in 2006.
“My friend Daniel Garbarino called me at some point and said he thought I should try it,” said Causey. “He said, ‘You will love it.’ At the time I didn’t have any hobbies. I had the capacity in my life to be able to do it. I thought, why not? I love football.
“I had never really thought about (football) from this angle. It was make a couple of bucks and stay around the game. I was never really thinking about college or NFL aspirations. It was purely to be around a sport that I loved my whole life.”
He gives credit to John Curtis, Jr., for his early development in the profession.
“The last game of the 2006 high school season, I worked the clock at a Cedar Creek playoff game,” he remembered. “John was the referee. I heard the crew talking and knew they had an opening the next year. I was able to get on with them. John had a passion for officiating. He wanted to get the call right and manage the game, while staying out of the way if possible. He wanted to let the players decide the game on the field.
“I started to fall in love with the officiating aspect. I became passionate about it. I realized that if you had a playing background that you had a little bit of an advantage. Stay in shape and apply yourself. Be coachable. If you did that then you had a chance to advance.”
And advance he did.
Causey worked seven years as a high school official, but would attend off-season camps and clinics where college supervisors would be scouting for talent. His first was a SWAC clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, where college supervisors like Gerald Austin and Walt Anderson were in attendance.
“It’s typical. They do that in the off-season,” said Causey. “They are scouting high school and lower college level officials to see who they can bring into their pipeline.”
The following year he attended Austin’s clinic in Miami and got the call. He was assigned one Conference USA game in 2012 and then six more in 2013. He began to work a full Conference USA schedule in 2014 before he eventually moved to the PAC-12 in 2020.
So when did Causey appear on the NFL’s radar?
“The NFL has scouts all across the nation that go to college games and high school games,” he said. “They are going to scout and build their pipeline and database of candidates. I do not know exactly when I got on the NFL’s radar. I don’t think anyone ever knows that.”
Causey did receive an email in December of 2016 from Dave Wyant, a former NFL official and head of scouting for the NFL, inviting him to St. Petersburg to work East-West Shrine Game practices.
“I worked three or four days,” he said. “It was my introduction into the NFL pipeline. Gary Slaughter was at those practices. He is a line of scrimmage supervisor in the NFL now and was at that time too. He’s had an amazing career.”
Once again, Causey heard nothing immediately following the opportunity.
“They don’t really give you any feedback,” said Causey. “I went back home and went about my business. I worked the 2017 C-USA season. In March of 2018, I received an email from Wayne Mackie who was working in the league office. He invited me into the NFL’s Officiating Development Program (ODP).”
The ODP is a pool of officials in college that serves as potential candidates for future NFL officiating jobs. Causey said normally there is anywhere from 30 to 50 in the pool.
“It formalizes the training,” he said. “We get to be involved in NFL training. I got to go out to their summer clinic and be around the NFL officials in Dallas in 2018, just weeks before the season started.”
Causey had opportunities to work various NFL mini-camps and training camps as well as college all-star games such as the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and NFL PA Bowl. All the while he called his normal regular season college football games each weekend during the fall.
And finally, just days ago, Causey got the call up to the big leagues.
“I still had no idea that I was going to actually get hired,” he said. “I had been in the program for going on five years. I was working USFL games. You understand you are only going to be in the program for a certain time. I understood it was either going to happen or they were going to move on from me, and I would work college for the rest of my career. I had hopes that I would get the call. I was certainly wanting it. I just didn’t know if it was going to come.”
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