Sept. 14, 2011
BY JOHN PAINTER
Sitting around waiting for grass to grow isn't exactly Darren Seybold's idea of a good time. UT's Director of Sports Surfaces prefers to nudge the process along in his own special way.
"Hey, I've got to sleep," Seybold says with a chuckle. "Everybody laughs at me about my worrying, but we all know what this place means to people. It's got to be perfect."
Seybold came to Tennessee one year ago and oversees all things green and growing in Big Orange Country. And this place is none other than the Shields-Watkins Field playing surface at Neyland Stadium, showpiece of Tennessee's athletics empire.
Seybold succeeded 20-year veteran Bobby Campbell in the summer of 2010, continuing UT's tradition of turfgrass excellence. It didn't take him long to appreciate the challenges of East Tennessee's climate.
"This is probably the toughest growing environment I've ever had to deal with, because it's so cold and then it's so hot," he says. "Although we have hot days in the summer, we have cool nights down into the 60s. And, obviously, here at the stadium there is a lot of shade.
"But it's fine. Everything's going to be fine."
Sox, `Stros and Dodgers
Seybold has spanned the country perfecting his craft. Upon graduation from Mississippi State, the Butler, Ala., native landed his first job overseeing the athletics facilities at Louisiana-Lafayette. He then spent three years in baseball's minor leagues with the Chicago White Sox organization, mainly in Birmingham, before landing in the majors with the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Then it was on to a stint at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles before Hilton International Hotels convinced him to be the assistant course superintendent at their worldwide No. 1 property, the Naples Grande Golf Club on Florida's southwest coast.
Now in Knoxville, Seybold has found a crew and University turfgrass program that suits his needs.
"We've teamed up pretty well with the turfgrass school here, so when we are in session I have 16 kids," he says. "We split them up as equally as we can to each facility. I learned to do that at Lafayette, where we were a small school and the coaches wanted someone at each facility."
Seybold's team of foremen is made up of Myron Roach, who handles Neyland Stadium and Haslam Field; Jimmy Andes at baseball; Darrell Denny at softball and soccer; Chris Easley at track and field; and Mark Gossett at the new golf practice facility.
"I'm lucky in that I have a crew at every facility," Seybold says. "I think that's why our facilities here as a whole have gotten so much better. We always have people who are there."
Just don't expect them to be sitting around watching the grass grow.