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NFL replay VP takes administrative leave in awkward officiating transition

Russell Yurk has taken an elective administrative leave, explaining why the vice president of replay isn’t in replay.



The offseason turmoil in the replay area of the officiating department continues, as vice president of replay Russell Yurk has formally taken an elective administrative leave. Yurk has been away from replay during the preseason, and apparently was reassigned “within the officiating group.” It follows last month’s announcement that Al Riveron retired from senior vice president of officiating (with sole focus on the replay area) just hours before the first preseason game.

Seven officiating sources have told Football Zebras that Yurk has declined to be vaccinated for covid-19, with one source characterizing the fact as “widely known among the officiating staff.” The league has mandated vaccination of all employees and game staff (players and coaching staff excepted). While some clock operators and chain crew personnel have decided to resign over the vaccine mandate — technically, they are hired on one-year contracts — Yurk is apparently stepping aside for the season with a path to return to work.

None of those sources could say whether Yurk’s leave of absence is correlated to whether or not Yurk was vaccinated. But all believed it was the reason why he was not present in the centralized replay center during preseason games in the first place.

The replay officiating staff was informed of Yurk’s status Saturday in a memo from senior vice president of officiating administration Perry Fewell, which Football Zebras obtained a copy.

Good afternoon,

As of September 11, 2021 Russell Yurk has elected to take administrative leave until further notice. The Officiating Department will utilize Eugene Cunningham, Ernie Frantz, Frank Szczepanik, and Sean McKee as points of contact for replay administrative issues until further notice. The Officiating department has distributed Russell’s responsibilities appropriately. Walt [Anderson], Wayne [Mackie], and Perry [Fewell] are available to answer questions regarding scheduling, replay related plays, training, rule interpretations, and work related inquiries.

We look forward to a successful 2021 season and appreciate all the work you do.

Perry Fewell

Cunningham is a former replay assistant and Frantz is a retired replay official and have been working as trainers in the replay area. Szczepanik is in charge of the on-site game day assistants that are hired by the officiating department, such as replay communicators and clock operators. McKee has worked for years as a technical operator in the centralized replay area, but now works in the football data and analytics area. Judging by this memo, McKee is temporarily returning to the officiating department and according to one source has been in the centralized replay command center during preseason. Mackie was the former vice president of officiating development, and since Anderson has been hired to a broader development role as senior vice president, Mackie has been working as a supervisor and trainer.

With the manpower being assigned, including three former employees, and a vacuum in the replay leadership, there is obviously some scrambling going on in the officiating department immediately before the first Sunday of regular season football.

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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