Scott Strickland, left, with North Carolina State head baseball coach Elliott Avent.
What’s it like leaving the field for an administration job?
some STMA members questions about leaving their “on the field” jobs for
administration posts. The questions: What were the main reasons you choose to
“leave the field” and take an administrative post? Are there ways the
challenges of your current job are similar to those of turf managers? What are
the biggest differences now in your day-to-day routines? What do you miss about
working on your fields? What advice do you have for others who are
contemplating moving from the field into administration?
Scott Strickland, Assistant GM,
Durham Bulls Baseball Club
been in search of “more” is likely the best way to answer why I [chose to
change]. I’ve always cared deeply about the overall success of our
organization. I think that is an extremely important characteristic for all
employees to have, especially those on the grounds staff and those who are in
more of the expense spending areas of a business as opposed to a revenue
generating or sales position. As head groundskeeper I did my best to make sure
everyone understood the value of items, e.g., how many tickets need to be sold
for us to cover the cost of one bag of conditioner. I think that helps the
overall value of an employee when they have that type of mindset. That then
leads to career growth opportunities as managers, GMs and owners see that type
of mindset. They appreciate it and are more willing to offer “more” to those
type employees. “More” can be defined as many things: greater responsibilities,
greater opportunities to manage full time employees, greater challengers to
embrace and overcome, more pay, more everything. I didn’t set out to move off
the playing field, I just set out to obtain “more” and that has led me to the
position I am in now.
sure if the challenges are the same, but the way we go about our days as field
managers is incredibly applicable to roles such as the one I am in now. Thanks
to my background, I appreciate lists of tasks to accomplish. I enjoy having
processes in place to make sure we do not “miss” something. I do not enjoy
having tasks or projects linger. I want to see the hole, patch the hole, and move
on to the next task at hand. Sometimes that can be a negative in my current
role as patience is required when we’re at the mercy of someone else, another
vendor or contractor accomplishing the task as opposed to your mowing the
grass, patching the mound, dragging the infield, etc.
interesting area that exists in baseball that I’ve grown to appreciate is we
have a 70-game home season, or 135 with Bulls, Duke and ACC Tournament. One,
our attention to detail leads us to identifying problems. Because we have 50
more games, 35 more games, 68 more games, whenever you identify the problem, you
want to correct that problem as soon as humanly possible to avoid repeating the
problem 50, 35, 68 or however many times. It’s Groundhog Day so let’s get it
right early to improve our overall effectiveness the rest of the season. That
way of thinking isn’t as prevalent in my current position as I thought it would
be. People often take your passion for correcting a problem as complaining
about their effectiveness. No, we just want to fix the problem so it isn’t
repeated and the next day is a little easier than the one prior.
What are the biggest differences now
in your day-to-day routines? This can easily be summarized by saying my old office had a wall
around it. In some parts that wall was 32 feet tall! To a degree, I controlled
who came into my “office” and how that set my required routine to function and
be successful. “Problems” were much easily identified and solutions were even
quicker. Dollar spot, spray it. In front of the mound worn out, sod it.
day-to-day is a combination of long-term planning, managing and helping
numerous other full-time employees succeed, and responding to “fires” that pop
up. Another difference is the more you move up, the more you have a voice, the
more you’re able to speak your opinion. The only problem is sometimes those
matters have higher implications and consequence. Previously my opinion was on
mowing heights; now my opinion impacts business decisions that reach outside of
our organization, as well as our bottom line as a company. Challenging and
stressful at times, but a lot of fun.
specifically miss that time on the tractor pulling cores after a long home
stand. Outsiders think we turf managers complain all the time about the hours.
We love the hours. We love taking care of our fields. There is no greater feeling
than giving your field what you know it needs, and an
aerification/topdress/verticut etc. after a long home stand heading into a long
road trip is an outstanding feeling. Often times its 1, 2, 3 in the morning
when you’re facilitating that cultural practice and therefore the stadium is
empty and nobody is there to bother you. I miss that the most.
everyone to simply follow your interests. If that ultimately leads you off the
field, then so be it. If that keeps you on the field for 30 years, so be it as
well. If you move off the field you’ll find great opportunity to apply those
skillsets you learned on the field to help others succeed. There is tremendous
enjoyment watching others succeed, whether that is facilitating a special
event, or helping a new intern sell a season ticket, or even when those in your
community come to the ballpark and enjoy the atmosphere and facility you helped
In my case
I’ve gotten to watch Cameron Brendle, our head groundskeeper, grow into a
better leader of his staff in addition to providing an outstanding playing
surface experience for so many. Not just a great surface but also a great
experience from the time they walk onto that warning track to the time they get
on the bus. User groups from the University of Virginia, Florida State, Tampa
Bay Rays, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s administration, the list goes on. They
all love coming to the DBAP and that is thanks to Cameron and his staff. We use
his department as an example to other departments on how to tackle challenges.
administration allows you to see that bigger picture and help move the needle
one day at a time for the entire organization. If you move off the field, hit
the ground running and never look back. Do what you think is best for the greater
good and never apologize for that.
Brian Gimbel, Director of Outdoor
Ohio State Athletics
I didn’t so
much leave the field so much as I took on extra responsibilities to the point
where my role was dramatically changed. We have been in a period of
construction pretty much since I was hired on in 1995. As we built the outdoor
stadiums, they were assigned to me to operate. As our athletics campus grew, my
time has been increasingly spent on operating the outdoor facility complex as a
whole. I am fortunate to have a great staff around me. This makes the
transition to a more administrative role much easier. I can trust them to make
the right decisions and to get all of our work done so that I can focus my
energy where it is needed.
One thing that
has remained constant is the need to be flexible and to plan ahead. Sports turf
managers all know that you have to work around event schedules, weather and
labor. When one of those things changes, and they will, we have to be ready to
change our plans as well. An administrative role has many of these same demands
on it. If our coaches change their minds, or funding doesn’t come through, or
there are cost overruns, I find that I need to be flexible and prepared with a
contingency plan. Plus, I still oversee the sportsturf too, so all of those
variables are also present.
What are the biggest differences now
in your day-to-day routines? I now spend more time at my desk, on my phone or in meetings than I do
out in the field. There is a significant amount of time spent on communication.
It is important for me to communicate not just to my crew, but also upward to
my superiors. When sitting in lots of meetings, there are many other people involved
that require communicating with as well. Whether it is architects and
engineers, contractors, or business office staff or sport ADs, my role requires
that I keep communication flowing between everyone concerned.
I miss the
feeling of getting something done, looking back at the day’s work and knowing
what was accomplished. In an administrative role, it can sometimes be harder to
discern what was accomplished after a set of meetings.
is don’t be afraid to work outside of your comfort level. If you work your way
up to an administrative position, then you are fortunate to have that working
knowledge of what it takes to get things accomplished.
Amy Fouty, CSFM, Assistant AD/Sports
Michigan State University
spending 29 years in the turf grass industry, the wear and tear on the body
physically, and mental focus needed to function at a high level has really worn
on me. I think as a turfgrass professionals the expectations and passion we
personally demand of ourselves and set as our standards are hard to sustain
over decades even under the best of circumstances.
Assistant AD for project and turfgrass management it really has not changed my
challenges working in the business of college sports. I still mentor staff,
work with students, coaches, and administration as I have in the past. The
challenges will always be getting everyone on the same page.
routine often is more meetings and phone calls than anything else. I spend less
time on turfgrass management and more time planning and forecasting of the
What do you miss about working on
your fields? Fortunately
for me, I still have the ability to get on a mower from time to time and enjoy
some unplugged time, not as often as I would like but as needed. LOL
serious note, just being there in the trenches with the staff. I am not always
there to mentor as I was in the past; it is the little things you learn day to
day and put together with the science that make you a great field manager. It
takes time I do not often have, but do my best to do as often as possible.
for others, I have found it challenging to make the transition. As people
review your resume, they see turf management and have a set idea what that
person is and what they are capable of. Take advantage of as many opportunities
to add facility, projects, operations, and event management to your resume as
possible to show a well-balanced professional.
CJ Lauer, Associate Director of
The Episcopal Academy (Newtown
For me the
move was one that allowed for upward mobility within the school. I lead a
talented crew that keeps the campus running day in and day out. The new
opportunity gave me the chance to increase my responsibilities along with
learning a new skill set, in facilities management.
Are there ways the challenges of
your current job are similar to those of turf managers? I think the challenges are a
little of both. I have to deal with people each day, students, parents, faculty
and staff. Any turf manager or manager for that matter has their constituents
with whom they have to interact with daily. There is always the daily grind and
the goals that are set by any manager or leader. These are very similar. For
example, I look at plumbing systems, HVAC and other building systems and always
relate it to an irrigation system. It’s a pipe and wire network.
day-to-day consists of being the main point of support for the crews that keep
our facility running. I am here to lead, guide, challenge, and support their
talented efforts. I have more contracts to manage, I have a larger budget to oversee,
and my responsibilities are much greater. I have nine buildings, 125 acres,
1300 students with families, 200+ faculty members, and 40+ staff members to
serve and provide an environment that is conducive for their success.
I miss the
opportunity to make that sudden impact of change. I got into the business
because I enjoy the satisfaction of making a space better than the way I came
upon it, for instance, the lines and pattern that can be mowed into a field or
the setup of a baseball or softball field for game day. The time and energy I
spent in that moment made an impact instantly. With my position now, I do not
physically get to make the change; I miss getting my hands dirty, so to speak.
It has been
such a great experience for me, I would encourage anyone to give it a
shot. I have learned so much more about
what it takes to run a highly successful facility, and the rewards have been endless.
Sharing the successes and failures with my team, growing and learning from them
each day, keeps things fun.
Abby McNeal, CSFM, CPRP, Field
Superintendent, City Wide Operations
Denver (CO) Parks and Rec
I chose to
advance my career toward a more administrative role to support the programs and
grow professionally. I support four citywide operations teams for Denver Parks:
Athletic Fields (daily prep, painting/installing multi-use fields, renovations
of softball/baseball fields); Regional Trails Operations; Park Inspections; and
DPR Mower Shop (maintaining our fleet of 6-foot mowers and smaller). This
position has allowed me to broaden my knowledge of the city operations,
strengthen my managerial skill set, and elaborate on the people partnerships
with internal and external agencies. I get the opportunity to work on “growing”
the supervisors within the teams and help all staff develop themselves and
similarities between this position and previous turf management jobs is that I
am still “putting out fires”—constant problem solving and supporting solutions.
Just like in the field, this position allows for the supporting role of solving
the issues, be it that it is more solving people issues. It takes a team and
there has to be a leader but developing the staff into leaders of their team is
what I try to focus on.
it’s just managing the “fires” and working on the administrative items like
purchasing, budgeting, and forecasting the future spending and planning of
capital project spending or capital purchases for the department. We have been
focused on converting our aging equipment with newer pieces while providing
equitability across the city.
miss mowing and painting, leaving a professional “look/feel” to a field;
however, I get to help others that want to learn and bring a professional feel
to the parks/athletic fields for our users. Passing on and sharing the
knowledge and industry connections is important to me as we grow our programs
and bring them to the next level for our citizens.
What advice do you have for others
who are contemplating moving from the field into administration? The best advice I can offer is to
be willing to share and let go of doing it all. As field managers we do it all,
mowing, painting, irrigation, fertilizing, etc. When you take a step “up” and
transition to administration you have to be willing to let go of being in the
field, accept that your “field” is now a desk/office. You have to build trust
in the field staff and support their program. Being the leader of more is the
administrative role you moved to. Making the bigger decisions and providing the
oversight to more than just the field(s), you obviously have the skills needed
or you wouldn’t have gotten the position.
yourself” you have to build on what you are good at and take advantage of
having the seat at the table to represent where you have been. You have to be
willing to sit back and allow your teams to shine and be more of a support role
for them to grow their programs. Their programs are your programs but you need
to just be the support. You grow those programs by doing your ”new” administrative
role. You grow yourself through those around you.
a moment to look where you have been but never take your eyes off of where you
are going. Everyday in this position I believe that I/we are making a
difference in Denver. We are raising the bar on all the fields, trails, parks,
and equipment that we touch and are having fun doing it.
Ryan DeMay, Sports Facilities
City of Columbus (OH)
What were the main reasons you choose to “leave the field” and take an
administrative post? Having a bigger impact on the
total experience of our customers. Much like a restaurant, I worked in the back
of the house for nearly two decades while others were trusted with the front of
the house. Now I can float seamlessly between both facets of our organization
to instill confidence in our staff and create joy for our customers.
are ways challenges of this job are similar, absolutely. It is imperative I be
a great communicator of challenges, solutions, and progress every day. The same
could be said for turf managers in being able to document and advocate on all
three of those fronts. As it was as a turf manager, I know I could not do this
job alone and need support within the organization from bottom to top. It
is through building relationships and trust with customers, co-workers,
vendors, and others I am able to accomplish what needs to be done at a high
customers I deal with, external and internal, are much more diverse in their
backgrounds, expectations, and communication styles. Adapting to meet their
needs is important. Taking a step back to being a turf manager, I look at this
like I would turf and ask myself, “How do I need to change my approach to meet
the needs of our customers?” The only thing different now with the answer is
the scale and impact of my role.
miss the simplicity of putting together an agronomic program, executing it,
adjusting it, and then reflecting on how to do better next year. Just the
grind to keep improving a field that is in use is great to be a part of. I am
fortunate that I still get to do this in my current role, only now on more of a
global level, across all of our fields.
for advice, I say, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows.” Seek the
self-awareness to know where your focus takes you and that will lead you where
you want to be.
have some tremendously talented people in our industry with excellent
communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills. The intangibles are what
separate people in the turf industry from most others. To be successful in our
industry requires patience, confidence, professionalism, and a strong work
ethic. All of those hard and soft skills translate directly into administrative
roles. Our industry needs more people like you to take a step forward and lift
the rest of us up as you go.