This field is where dreams happen, where the modern gladiators fight. Paul Brown Stadium's turf is where Andy Dalton takes his steps back to pass, where Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard cut and spin, where the offensive line digs in, holds up, and pushes back, where Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson dive for overthrown passes. This grass, this turf is unlike any other playground you'll see it's where the Cincinnati Bengals play.
We were lucky enough to have a conversation with Darian Daily, the head groundskeeper at Paul Brown Stadium and member of the Sports Turf Managers Association. We picked Daily's brain about what makes the grass so much greener on his side.
Art Bidwell: You're a 25 year veteran to this industry, are you mostly hands-off when it comes to field preparation as you now stand in a supervisor role? Do you miss the manual labor that comes with preparing the field?
Darian Daily: From time to time I get out on the field and do a little work, but pretty much 75 percent of the time I'm hands off. I'm now dealing with buying things we need, I'm dealing with paying bills. Although, when I get stressed I'll find the time to just hop on a mower and burn that stress off. I don't miss it when it's 10 degrees outside, that's no fun at all. But when we're in training camp, it's nice. I try to get out as much as I can, but usually I'll have one of my guys tell me to get back in the office because I'm screwing them up. I have three full time guys, they're great, and they really take the stress off.
CJ: Have you ever had an emergency on the field?
DD: Our first year we had synthetic turf in 2004 we had a little something. The field was covered for snow and when we pulled the field covers off and that old logo we had, the leaping tiger, we had him glued on at mid-field and it had started to come off, this was just 30 minutes before the gates opened. What had happened was we had the logo glued down to the green carpet and the glue had come loose, so we had to suck the rubber out and get some other type of glue on it. Then we had to make sure it was safe for the players. We had some guys doing warmups stand on it. That was probably the closest we came to an emergency with the field. No one knew about that except for us.
CJ: Well, now our readers will know it.
DD: [Laughs] Yeah, well, that's okay; it was a long time ago now.
CJ: Are there guidelines and stipulations you must follow according to the NFL?
DD: I'm actually on the NFL safety field committee and one of the newer things they have imposed, starting five years ago, was that there needed to be stipulations with regard to the practice field, trying to maintain the same level of safety. For the safety committee we meet in New York every year and we talk about these types of things, we're always trying to make the field conditions safer for the players. One tool we do use is a measurement called Gmax. This was adapted from the Detroit car manufacturers to test how hard bodies hit something. We use this to try and make the field safer and softer for when the players hit. We have to look at every field, which are all different. We have maintain a report on these ratings and send it to the league office before every game.
CJ: Do you ever take requests from players or coaches about the field condition?
DD: I haven't really gotten any requests from players during my time. Although when we did have natural grass, Darrin Simmons, our special teams coach, made a request to get some harder surface along a warning track we have just outside the practice field so that the kickers could get used to kicking off a harder dirt surface in preparation for playing in Oakland. So we got that ready for them, but that was about it.
CJ: Do you take, even just a little a little bit of credit, for the Bengals being so healthy this year?
DD: No, no I can't take credit for them not being hurt this year. Coach Lewis and the rest of the staff have changed up their practice routine and that's helped a lot. Knock on wood.
CJ: Speaking of knocking on wood, if the Bengals were to host a playoff game this year, is there anything extra you have to do with the field?
DD: When it's the playoffs there's not really extra field issues but there is more set-up with media requirements. There's more cameras required on the field which requires more setup for those guys. But for the field, nothing else really changes except for the logos, whether it's the regular season or the playoffs it's the same, we just try to make it as safe as possible for the players.
CJ: PBS has synthetic turf, what is the difference between how that is managed as opposed to real grass?
DD: Well, our big savings is that we don't have to paint as much as we do with grass because our lines are already in there. For this year our extra painting just has to do with the gold 50 yard marker and the gold NFL logo for the 50 year anniversary. We still have to go around and pick up the pom-pom strands, tape, and gum that we can't go over with a mower. We drag the field and keep it soft. We keep the rubber consistent throughout the field. We've been keeping records and it takes the same amount of time to make it clean. We still do our maintenance on it; it's just a different kind of maintenance.
CJ: Out of the three, which do you like to watch on TV, baseball, football, or golf with reference to manicured landscapes?
DD: That's a tough one. I tend to watch football because I like it the most, both college and pro. I tend to follow it a little bit more. I know all the guys in the NFL and most of the guys in college so I know what it takes to do what they do with their fields. When you watch baseball or golf it's nice to see, but I don't know all the procedures for those sports. With the NFL I know the backstory and while you can take a guess at what goes through with baseball and golf, I don't really know it. You could say baseball and football get a lot more TV time, there's a lot more events that go on with those fields and not just games, but concerts and stuff like that. While the golf guys can focus on their one tournament all year. We get critiqued more than the golf guys... not that I want to piss off any golf guys though, their job is tough too.
CJ: No, that's good, we can start a controversy now.
DD: [Laughs] No, no those guys do a great job.
CJ: How did you get this job? Was it always a goal?
DD: Well, my goal growing up was to be the starting center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But, you know, I couldn't throw all that well, or catch, or hit, so it wasn't really in the cards. But my coach told me there are other ways to make it into sports. So in the summers I would take care of my high school baseball field. Then when I went to college at Middle Tennessee State, I was the equipment manager down there and took care of the field. I got my degree in plant and soil sciences from there and then worked in the Parks and Rec department before getting a job working with the Columbus Crew for a bit and then ended up in Cincinnati working for the Bengals. I've never had a job outside of this career and I was lucky I found this job early. I never had to find another calling in life because I found this early.