The SportsTurf Interview: Herb Combs, CSFM, Penn State

This month in “The SportsTurf Interview,” we feature Herb Combs, CSFM, who recently was named an assistant athletic director at Penn State. Before this promotion, as athletic fields supervisor, Combs led Penn State’s grounds crew in building, preparing and maintaining approximately 200 acres of outdoor athletic facilities, including intramural fields. A Penn State graduate, Combs was a member of the University of Minnesota athletic staff before returning to his alma mater in 2006. Combs and his wife, Christina, have two children.

SportsTurf: You recently were promoted to assistant athletic director for outdoor athletic facilities. What new duties does this position entail? Does it mean you no longer will be working on your fields?

Combs: As part of the promotion I will oversee all aspects of our outdoor athletic facilities and operations. I will now shift my focus from the tactical day-to-day operations to more of a managerial and strategic approach. We are currently in the middle of a facility master plan that once finalized will have a big impact on our current facilities and require me to focus on advancing our facilities into the future. The promotion definitely will minimize the time I will get to spend in the field and with my staff.

SportsTurf: What wisdom can you share with younger turf managers about being successful in the profession?

Combs: You have to have a passion for this industry and be willing to put in the hard work and long hours. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and don’t be afraid to fail. When you are first starting out be a sponge and take in as much as you can from as many different people as you can.

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?

Combs: I think the biggest challenges today are the number and frequency of events for any one given facility, in addition to the age-old saying of having to do more with less.

SportsTurf: What are your biggest challenges working in the high-profile Big 10?

Combs: Our challenges tend to revolve around the number of teams and events we support. We are responsible for all our varsity teams, intramural program and club sports programs. It seems that weather is our single biggest challenge. It also seems like we never have an off-season either.

SportsTurf: How has social media impacted your work?

Combs: I am unfortunately old school when it comes to social media and haven’t embraced it yet. However I believe it is a huge networking tool and a way to connect with what others are doing within the industry.

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

Combs: I think the profession will continue to grow as more and more organizations focus on safe and quality athletic venues. More and more opportunities are starting to appear outside MLB, NFL and NCAA, in parks and rec and high schools, which will allow for people to choose different avenues to be successful.

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

Combs: I found my first job through STMA back in 2002 and have been a member ever since. The organization has provided me a network to which I can reach out to anyone for help or mentoring at anytime. I also have many lifelong friends that I have meet through STMA. STMA has also provided me a professional recognition that is respected across the industry.

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

Combs: Outside of work I enjoy playing ice hockey and hunting or fishing. I also enjoy spending time with my family and coaching my kids’ sports teams.