Gerald Austin Alum of the Month
Question.) When did you graduate from WCU and in what subject area?
Answer.) 1964 B.S. in Education Social Studies
1969 M.A. in Education Administration
Q.) Gerald, what are some of your fondest memories of your days at WCU?
A.) There were about 2,600 students when I started at Western and there were approximately 3,900 when I graduated due to two new dorms opening. Most students during that time either knew each other or had some knowledge about each other. Professors were caring and helpful and everybody was very friendly. Old Memorial stadium was full for all the football games and Reid Gym was always packed for basketball. The student body supported the teams and activities on campus and there was an atmosphere of camaraderie and fellowship. I loved every minute.
Q.) Who were your favorite professors or staff members at WCU and why?
A.) Dr. Harold Kennedy, Dr. Cecil Cosper, Dr. H.P. Smith and Coach Gudger were wonderful.
They would provide encouragement and advice when asked and gave me the “Thomas the Tank” feeling, “You can do it, you can do it!”
Q.) Gerald, your career path has truly been incredible. You were a college football official for several years, an NFL official for 26 years, a public school administrator for over 30 years, supervisor of football official for Conference USA for the last 15 years, and since 2012 you’ve been an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Tell us about your amazing career path following graduation from Western.
A.) My path was influenced by many people. My high school coach at Erwin High School, Gil Lance; My officiating supervisor in Asheville, Joe Eblen; The ACC supervisor, Norvell Neve and the NFL head of officiating, Art McNally. In education, Dr. Jerry Rice at WCU who encouraged me to pursue my doctorate; Dr. Joe Brooks with Greensboro City Schools; and Dr. Dale Brubaker, professor at UNC-G.
My wife Sylvia and my children have supported me while I was away from home pursuing my career goals.
To succeed at anything you must be prepared and know the requirements whether it’s rules or your boss’s expectations and be willing to give a complete effort to accomplish the goal. Listen to those around you and be willing to accept positive criticism, evaluate it, and then act on it. Don’t be satisfied with where you are but always try to improve. As it is often said in officiating, “you are only as good as your next call.”
Q.) Gerald, you have worked over 500 games during your time as an NFL official (including three Super Bowls, three Pro Bowls, six NFL conference championship games, and the greatest comeback in NFL history when the Bills overcame a 32 point deficit to beat the Oilers in the 1993 playoffs). I’m sure as an official you have to be emotionally detached and impartial during the game, but looking back what would you consider the most exciting or memorable game you have officiated?
A.) Looking back, I’m not sure there is one single memorable game, but several come to mind. Officiating Carolina-Duke basketball games; Clemson-South Carolina football games; Super Bowl XXXI between the Packers and the Patriots; the Comeback Game between the Bills and the Oilers; and my first NFL game in 1982.
Q.) Gerald, you were the mentor for the NFL’s first full time female official, Sarah Thomas. Tell us a little bit about Sarah, and what it means to you to be a part of this historical milestone.
A.) Sarah has two characteristics that you hope to find in every official but they’re not always there. 1) She has an understanding of the game of football and has what is known as FCS----Football Common Sense. Which is basically knowing what should be called and what should be passed on. 2) She has the courage to make a call when an advantage has been gained that isn’t within the rules----and it’s tough to teach that.
I like to see an official be a student and have a real thirst for knowledge and understanding of the game of football. Lastly, they must be willing to put in the time and effort to become an excellent official----and Sarah definitely does that.
Q.) You are a member of WCU’s Alumni Board of Directors and you are also very active with the Triad WCU Alumni Club. Why do you feel it is important for alumni to stay connected with their university?
A.) Western is ingrained in me. The university provided me with an outstanding education, knowledge, and background to pursue my professional and life goals. For that the very least I can do is support WCU. I believe every graduate has an obligation in their own way to give back to the university----get involved and participate!
Q.) Now tell us something unique and interesting about yourself that few people may know.
A.) Many years ago my mom told me that my first word as a child even before I could walk was “Go”---- and I’ve been going ever since! I love to travel and I love people. I appreciate and cherish the relationships and friendships that I have developed through my participation in sports and during my time at Western----I love them Cats!