New STMA President Jeff Salmond takes the reins

By John Torsiello

You might say new Sports Turf Managers Association President Jeff Salmond, CSFM, has always been a down-to-earth kind of guy.

After all, Salmond, who took over the position this month from Allen Johnson, CSFM, was raised on a small farm in Sugar Creek, MO and grew up learning the nuances of making a living from the soil and dealing with the vagaries of Mother Nature. After searching for his professional identity upon graduation from high school and considering another career path in college, Salmond returned to his roots, so to speak.

“I have always loved sports. I started out at the University of Missouri with aspirations of working in sports,” says Salmond. “My athletic ability only took me through high school, but I wanted to stay connected with sports in some way. I wanted to be a physical therapist and had 3 years of classes under my belt while applying twice to get into the program. Needless to say I didn’t get in, and I contemplated how I was going to get out of college in within a 5-year period. I stayed on campus during the summer working toward another degree program, and I needed a job. I took one at the University of Missouri’s Turfgrass Research Center and immediately fell in love with turfgrass. I couldn’t believe there was a degree for taking care of grass and sports fields. It was a much shorter crop than I was used to working with when I was younger, but it was a job doing something outside. I was taught at a young age that if you fall in love with something, do it, and do it to the best of your ability and with passion. I also feel that way about the Sports Turf Managers Association.”

Salmond accelerated through the turf degree program in four semesters and went on to receive a BS in Plant Science. Before leaving Mizzou, he did an internship in 1995 for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL and was encouraged to seek more in-depth turfgrass education. He went on to receive an MS in Horticulture from Iowa State University.

His Master’s work was researching the use of crumb rubber in high traffic areas on natural grass athletic fields. He also assisted Dr. David Minner with the construction of the Iowa State Sports Turf Research area. His career experiences included working as an assistant field maintenance manager for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL, the head athletic turf manager for the University of New Mexico, and an agronomist at Northwestern University.

Salmond now is the director of athletic field management at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and oversees the personnel and management for all OU Athletics fields. He also is currently serving as an Advisory Board member for the Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City turf management program. In addition, Salmond serves on the Board for the Oklahoma Turfgrass Research Foundation and the City of Norman Board of Park Commissioners. He has been an STMA member since 1995, received a STMA Student Scholarship in 1997 and became a Certified Sports Field Manager in 2003. He helped develop the first STMA Student Challenge. Salmond was also instrumental in starting the Oklahoma Chapter of STMA in 2011 and is serving as its Vice President. Over the years he has also served on and chaired various STMA committees.

Salmond and his wife, Loida, live in Norman and have four children: Taylor, Tyson, Tinley and Troy. He credits his wife for invaluable support lent to his career and his work with the STMA, while raising a young family. He cites his parents, Jim and Mary Salmond, as his first big influences. He says, “They are the ones that instilled the hard work ethic in me.”

There have been professional field managers and mentors who have influenced him as well. They inspired Salmond to pursue his school and career paths and steered him along the path to the notable success he has enjoyed. Jeff gives a lot of credit to his good friend, Neal Pate of the Cleveland Browns, for introducing him to the sports turf industry. “Neal was a year ahead me in school at Missouri, and told me about the job opening at the Turfgrass Research Center and student internship at Missouri’s baseball field. Had he not shown me this opportunity, I don’t know where I would be,” says Salmond. Another person of influence was Troy Smith. Troy was the incoming STMA President when he asked Jeff about serving on the Board. Salmond is grateful of the path that Troy helped lead him on in serving the STMA.

After starting his working career in the NFL, Salmond has used the league’s standard as a mindset for his expectation everywhere he has been. “We grow and build up a grass plant, while making it look and play its absolute best, only to punish it through the rigors of cleats and foot traffic. Then we recover it only to replicate that each game and practice, in some instances for national television audiences, let alone for those in attendance. Whether it is the football, soccer, softball or baseball field, we treat every field the same and to that NFL standard.”

He says sports field managers are charged with providing safe fields for the student-athletes, professional athletes, and youth. Athletes are valuable to their institutions, their teams and their parents. “That’s a lot of responsibility, and you always have to remember you have their health and safety in your hands, much like a doctor,” says Salmond.

Because what sports turf managers care for is indeed often a “living organism,” its condition is somewhat at the whim of nature. “But this can’t be an excuse for poorly maintaining your fields or lacking high standards. We have to deal with different types of weather phenomenon along with multiple sporting and marketable events. We have to be able to adapt, call a few audibles, as well as being environmental stewards, to get our work done,” says Salmond. “At the collegiate level we are constantly working around sports schedules, squeezing our agronomic practices in a short window of opportunity between the games, practices, events, commercials and photo shoots, which can be challenging. It’s also where communication and coordination with my staff and OU administration becomes crucial.”

Being flexible and an expert at multi-tasking is also part and parcel of a good sports turf manager, says Salmond. He and seven assistant athletic field managers at OU are responsible for the maintenance of outdoor and indoor football fields, indoor and outside track complexes, baseball, softball, and soccer fields, a cross-country course, all grounds around the school’s basketball arena, tennis courts, and several other OU athletic facilities. Whew.

And if that wasn’t enough, “We are in the middle of a building renovation project at the football field. The stadium is getting ‘bowled in’, which means the football team is using the practice soccer and rugby field in addition to the infield area of the track and field complex. We have to make sure the team is taken care of and has excellent grass to practice on while the renovations are going on. It’s been a challenge but it’s going well. We have also just recently completed full field construction projects at our softball and baseball fields. We have a great athletic field management staff, willing to do whatever it takes. We are what I call, ‘The Directors of First Impressions’ at OU,” he says.

Wants more chapters

Salmond is thrilled to be assuming the position as President of the Sports Turf Managers Association. “I am thankful and fortunate to have been with STMA for 20 years. I will work at the highest level of service in STMA to give back to the organization that has given so much to me. I plan to encourage growth nationally by promoting the formation of chapters in states that do not have one and look at things internationally. I believe that by doing this we will continue to strengthen the role and importance of the sports turf manager on all levels,” he says. “I would also like to continue to promote professionalism across the industry through the CSFM certification program, and see STMA as the leading association for athletic field management globally. In our jobs as sports turf managers, we cannot stop learning, and STMA provides the education, and networking with other sports turf managers to help us be successful.”

Salmond is convinced effort must be made to promote sports turf managers and their assistants as experts in their craft: individuals whose talents and dedication are valuable to those they are employed by, whether it is a professional or college team or a local government. Indeed, the new STMA president believes making decision-makers aware of the vital role and importance of sports turf managers and what they can mean to the quality of life at their institutions, franchises and communities to be one of his primary missions at his new post. Besides just being surface caretakers, sports turf managers are doctors, but also agronomists, architects, meteorologists, mechanics, machine operators, financial and schedule planners, and computer operators. And should look to be paid accordingly to all those skill sets.

“We need to build upon our relationships with user groups and administrators, whether they be athletic directors, owners, school boards, local government, or youth sports groups. We need kids to play sports and get outside in nature because they are our end-users, the reason why we have a job. We need parents of today’s youth to want fields like they see on television,” Salmond says. “We also need to encourage more young people to get into the sports turf management career. The industry has much to offer with different types of jobs and careers.”

Salmond has thought about the future of sports fields and believes a good grass field can go a long way given the proper resources, care and a sports field manager. “The variety of grasses have improved significantly and there have been major advances in growing natural grass and caring for the surface. But, the technology will continue to improve.”

Another challenge he sees is “burn-out” with sports turf managers. “We are starting to see people change careers within the industry or totally get out of the industry because of the overwhelming time of overseeing fields for sporting and marketable events. There are hardly any off-seasons anymore,” he says.

Thus he believes it is import to develop sports field managers and their assistants. “We need to provide continuing education and access to institutional turf programs for our members and promote the importance of a sports turf manager within user groups.

Kim Heck, CEO of STMA, says she and the rest of the STMA staff are excited about Salmond’s Presidential year. “He is always so prepared to address the many issues that come before our board, and he brings a very reflective process to addressing these issues. Jeff listens very well and asks great questions. He wants to know the entire landscape of an issue before he offers an opinion. His style is collaborative and engaging. These are important traits for any leader, but are especially crucial for the President of a non-profit association. Jeff consistently looks forward. He understands our strategic plan very well, and thinks beyond it—not only what we are implementing now, but envisions the ideal future.”

Of course, it hasn’t been all work and no play for Salmond. “I like to fish or play golf, but I don’t hardly get a chance to do that with raising kids and a busy full-time job. My new therapeutic hobby is smoking meat, and I love to spend my spare time smoking a good brisket or pork butt. I just started working on my own sauce,” he says.

Salmond feels blessed every day with his chosen profession and making a difference in people’s lives. “I come to work with the mentality that situations may not be ideal, but I enjoy my job, and I love what I do. I have always blocked out all the ancillary things that you can’t control. I’m used to working hard and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Those are certainly attributes that will serve Salmond well in his new post.