Clark Will Officiate Irish-Tide Matchup
On Jan. 7, the eyes of the nation will be upon him.
Indirectly, he probably hopes.
When Notre Dame and Alabama clash for college football’s national championship, Albuquerque’s Land Clark will be the main man in the middle of the struggle. He is the referee on an all-star crew, and thus in charge of all officials on college football’s biggest stage.
“It’s an incredible honor for Land, and it will be really special to watch him,” says Albuquerque lawyer Bob Collins, a retired college official and former on-field partner of Clark’s for two decades.
“But you want the game to go smoothly, so that the officials aren’t even noticed. When you’re on a crew, you almost want the game boring in terms of officiating, and you want to stay out of the limelight. If there’s a controversial call, there’s almost a hole in your stomach when you’re on the crew.”
Clark, who according to Collins is around age 50, can’t grant interviews before the game. But there are plenty of folks who have plenty to say about a guy who has lived in Albuquerque for more than two decades, and once called games in the Duke City YAFL games.
“I’ve talked to him a couple of times since he was named to the game,” says retired official Terry Linton. “He was like a kid in a candy store – eyes wide with excitement. He’s prepared for 30 years to do it, and he is ready. Not many people get to the call the national championship, even fewer than the Super Bowl.
“All the officials in Albuquerque are excited, because one of our own has reached the zenith of our profession.”
Linton, who retired in 2000 after 30 years as a high school and college basketball and football official, said Clark was on his gridiron crew in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in the late 1990s. When Linton stepped down, Clark stepped up. And he’s been rising in the ranks ever since.
“I was the referee on the crew, and when I retired Land took over for me,” Linton says. “It’s really something special to see a guy follow in your footsteps, and then have this kind of success.”
Clark moved to New Mexico from Utah in 1988. He quickly started making a name for himself and eventually worked four state high school championship games.
“When I first became commissioner in ’87-88, he came from Utah and started out doing some lower level games, even YAFL,” says Ken Murphy, the central regional assignment commissioner for New Mexico high school football and a high school official for the past 34 years.
“He proved to be an excellent official, and he deserves to have a game like this. He’s probably the best to ever come out of here. He’s so dedicated, watches film all year around and is always trying to get better. He such a calm guy and does a real, real good job.”
Gary Spitzberg, a retired New Mexico high school official who assigned sub-varsity games for 15 years in the Albuquerque Public Schools system, says Clark had a “meticulous” pre-game routine, and he treated every game – from freshmen to varsity – “like a championship game, which they are to those kids.”
After working his way through the high school ranks, Clark headed to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. In 2001, he started calling games in the Mountain West Conference and the Big 12.
In 2011, he was hired in the newly reformed Pac-12 and quickly became one of the league’s most respected officials. So respected, he was selected to officiate the league’s 2011 championship game.
“It was really a simple hire, to some extent,” says Mike Pereira, who was the interim head of officials in the Pac-12 in 2011. Pereira, of course, knows a thing or two about outstanding officials. He is the NFL’s former vice president of officiating and is currently Fox TV’s NFL rules analyst.
“I had seen him work on television, and I just liked his appearance and the way he handled himself as a referee,” Pereira said. “He is a no-nonsense type of referee; serious, gets the job done, doesn’t waste a lot of time and presents a real positive image.
“So I coupled that with the fact that I asked around to a lot of people, those who worked with him in the Mountain West Conference or the Big 12, and everyone was high on him. He’s kind of one of those guys, you know it when you see it. He worked the first-ever Pac-12 championship game, and it’s a well-deserved honor that he will lead this crew in the national championship game.”
Pereira believes Clark has the makings of an NFL official.
“I don’t know if that’s his aspiration, but he has all the things you look for,” Pereira said. “Of course, the NFL doesn’t take referees directly from college and make them a referee in the NFL. You usually go through a period of a few years trying to adjust to that level of play. But if he has the aspirations, he’s certainly somebody who would be looked at because of his accomplishments.”
Collins says there is no doubt that Clark should be calling games on Sundays. “He should already be in the NFL. He’s such a quiet guy, almost shy. He’s unassuming, modest, but one heck of a football official.
“He commands the field, expects a great deal from his crew and he gets it. He has great rules knowledge and is an excellent athlete.
“Land is the best of the best, and all of us in Albuquerque are really proud of him. He is one of our own.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal