UNCG Magazine

Making the call! Former Super Bowl referee Gerald Austin

Most fans watching the Super Bowl will have their eyes on the quarterback or the wide receivers. Gerald Austin, a UNCG alumnus, keeps an eye on the refs – and watches the action like they do.

He’s been there. Austin, an NFL official from 1982 to 2007, worked three Super Bowls: Super Bowl XXIV, Super Bowl XXXI, and Super Bowl XXXV.

He led the officiating crew as the Referee in the latter two Super Bowls.

The NFL presented him with the Art McNally Award, honoring exemplary professionalism, leadership and commitment to sportsmanship on and off the field.

Education has always been his passion. The Asheville native with a 30-year career in education administration, he earned his doctorate in UNCG’s School of Education in 1977 after getting his earlier degrees at Western Carolina.

One career highlight in educational administration? Working for Greensboro City Schools, he was the initial principal for the Weaver Academy, helping oversee the construction and opening of the innovative public school. 

He educated millions of football fans as an on-air rules analyst. From 2012 to 2018, he held that role on “Monday Night Football.” Many fans remember him for explaining a game-deciding botched call during the referees’ strike in September 2012. The NFL used replacement refs to start the season. The game was at Seattle. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw a long pass, seemingly intercepted by the Packers – but the referees ruled the Seahawks receiver legally took possession from the defender and it was a touchdown.

Austin gave detailed analysis on why that was a blown call. Perhaps not coincidentally, the NFL reached agreement with the referees before the next weekend’s games.

His educational and mentoring skills also led to his 20-year stint as Coordinator of Football Officials for Conference USA. He hired the conference’s first female football ref, Sarah Thomas, who recently became the first female to officiate a Super Bowl.

Austin understands that a lot of fans get upset at referees’ calls. It’s easy to assume you know more than the referees. But they’re exceptionally knowledgeable and skilled, and they get most calls right, ultimately. 

“If you boo at the TV, do it because you are a rabid fan,” he says. “You’re better off assuming the refs know the rules.”

By Mike Harris, UNCG Magazine editor
Courtesy archival photo of Gerald Austin

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