The SportsTurf Interview: Chris Powell, Cleveland Browns

This month in The SportsTurf Interview, we feature Chris Powell, head groundskeeper for the Cleveland Browns.

SportsTurf: You know a lot of sports turf managers. What are they saying are the biggest obstacles to overcome for them to be successful today?

Powell: It always seems to be the addition of minor events and the lack of communication that always seems to come hand in hand with each other. It’s that they always assume that it’s no big deal from their perspective and that everything will work out.

It need to be expressed that in order for field managers to do their jobs, we must recognize as many variables as possible and become proactive with a plan that can negate any shortcomings or, just as important, take advantage of the situation.

We spend countless hours interpreting weather conditions, we evaluate the health of the grass plants, we forecast the effects of wear and how the field will play, we formulate nutrient requirements and prescribe possible grass-saving applications, and perform cultivating activities to condition the field so that we have the greatest odds for success. That’s why we become somewhat irritated when something as easy as a quick conversation about an event on the field can alert us to take another variable under advisement. The communication not only allows both parties a better chance for success, but demonstrates an understanding and respect for what we do.

SportsTurf: What are your biggest challenges working in the National Football League?

Powell: Well I’m pretty fortunate that I don’t have to go at it alone. I’ve got who I believe are two of the best groundskeepers in all the profession in Neal Pate as the stadium field manager, and Scott Springer, the supervisor at the practice facility. Our facilities are 27 miles apart and any success at either place is dependent on these gentlemen and how they handle day-to-day operations. I rest assured knowing decisions are being made by maximizing every possible advantage for the fields’ sake and for the goal of always being at our best for our fields, each other, and to the Browns.

With this kind of dedication and the time needed to attain the expected results, striking up the right balance on and off the fields with work and family can be tough. There’s nothing I love more than family so having my youngest remark some years ago that she could just watch football on TV to see her daddy, really opened my eyes. It’s not just good enough to take the time when it’s available, but rather you have to learn to make the time to spend with your family. It will make you not only a better husband or father, but a better person and that will always make you a better groundskeeper.

SportsTurf: How has social media impacted your work?

Powell: The community-based sharing perspective is pretty neat because I’m able to hone in on the things that interest my work and me. Whether it’s a person, group, or subject, I can follow current trends and activities in our profession that, more times than not, can be a catalyst for further research and information gathering. I’m trying to jump in myself on Twitter nation at @BrownsGrounds.

SportsTurf: What’s your favorite on-field maintenance task that you still enjoy performing?

Powell: If you don’t mow it, you don’t know it!

SportsTurf: How do you think the profession and industry will change in the next 10 years?

Powell: I think in some form or fashion, field certification will eventually be required at most competitive levels. Here in the NFL, we are going into our fourth year complying with league set standards for field conditions while also following the recommended practices in order to achieve some sort of consistency across the league. I believe that this proactive approach is a collaboration with results that not only provides justification and merit for our responsibilities, but to all parties involved, a measurable way of ensuring a safe and playable field.

SportsTurf: How has your career benefitted from being a member of STMA?

Powell: Being a member of STMA, I am able to network and connect with other groundskeepers at all levels and experience. Every one of us shares a common devotion for providing safe and playable fields and it’s no different if the end users are million dollar athletes or grade school ballers. We can all learn from one another and STMA gives us the means to do this.

SportsTurf: What are your passions and interests outside of work?

Powell: One of the reasons I chose to go into groundskeeping is the love of the outdoors. Hard to imagine, but I really enjoy doing yard work around the house and also working on outdoor projects such as my backyard “Family-Oasis.” Whether it’s the outdoor movie theater or the in-ground fire pit, nothing beats sitting around with the family under the stars watching classic movies or listening to good music and eating sticky s’mores.