THE AFL is on the search for a new head of umpiring, with former Essendon and Richmond football manager Dan Richardson among the leading candidates.

As part of its restructure this year Grant Williams, who has been head of umpiring over the past three seasons, has been appointed in a critical and senior role within the League's talent team as national talent development and competitions manager.

The role is a significant one for Williams, who is highly rated at HQ and among clubs, and will see him lead and drive the changes across national and state talent programs including the NAB League, management of state talent teams and the integration of the diversity talent team.

The NAB League will next year become an under-19s competition, while a new 22-team competition combining the VFL and NEAFL has also been formed for 2021.

The change has left the important head of umpiring job vacant, with the AFL currently in its process of finding a replacement. A decision is expected in coming weeks.

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Richardson is understood to be among the contenders having been axed by the Bombers after the club's review at the end of the season, with the former high profile player agent departing Essendon in October after three years at the club.

He had joined the Bombers after five seasons as Richmond's football boss.