The NFL officiating department has completely decapitated its leadership in the replay area this season, and may be parting ways with a second replay executive in the span of a month.
Russell Yurk, the vice president of replay, has been removed from the loop of replay decision making. This occurs in the same month as senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron reportedly retired; Riveron’s role was curtailed to only replay functions in 2020. After Riveron’s departure, there were reports circulating that replay leadership was up in the air, instead of following the presumed succession to Yurk. Multiple officiating sources have stated that Yurk has not been in the centralized replay command center during the preseason.
“Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell will make replay decisions in New York,” said NFL spokesman Michael Signora, referring to the senior vice presidents of officiating and development and of officiating administration, respectively. Both attained those positions in 2020 at the same time Riveron was relegated to replay.
According the rulebook, replay decisions are made by “the Senior Vice President of Officiating or his or her designee,” which matches Riveron’s former title. Even though Anderson and Fewell still have their original titles, the league deems those semantically the same as what is written in the replay rules. Some published reports indicated that referees and replay officials will start making replay decisions, but this is completely contrary to the rules except in a rare situation of a loss of the communication link to the New York office.
The league declined to respond to follow-up questions regarding Yurk. However, he continues to have a presence in the league offices in New York as of today, according to one source, so he has not been dismissed as of now. But the question remains why the vice president of replay would not be involved in replay decisions this season, after doing so for the last 4 seasons. Will Yurk be moved to more of an administrative role within the replay arm?
Yurk was installed as the vice president of replay in 2017 after one season as replay official and six as a replay assistant. Previously, he was an attorney at the law firm where former referee Ed Hochuli is a partner.
Anderson is presumably the primary person handling the replay reviews for 2021 and Fewell the backup, owing to the fact that Anderson has 24 years of NFL officiating experience and Fewell has zero. (When centralized replay was initiated in 2017, the plan was to have 3 individuals with replay authority.) The situation also adds additional constraints for Anderson in his role after only one year. Anderson assumed a position for training and development that was created in the last collective bargaining agreement with officials, with a particular emphasis on assisting officials in their first 3 years in the league. Anderson essentially assumed most of the responsibilities as the head of officiating, with replay and administrative aspects handled by Riveron and Fewell.
By adding replay back under the wing of the department head, it repeats the quandary that existed under Riveron: that there are too many hands-on responsibilities at the top that take away from other oversight aspects of the department. When Dean Blandino was the senior vice president, he had Riveron as his deputy, someone with field experience to lean on. Riveron had Yurk, someone without on-field experience, and only had booth experience.
It will now presumably be up to Anderson to handle both on-field and replay officiating, adding layers of complexity to the job, and ultimately reducing the available time to develop and train newer officials that the officials union specifically bargained for.