Allen Johnson is pushing 20 years as field manager for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. That’s two decades as the general of, arguably, the most hallowed turfgrass in sports.
That’s also a long time in a pressure-packed role.
Who has Johnson relied on to get him through tough times and challenges? His network of industry peers.
At the Sports Turf Managers Association’s (STMA) Conference and Exhibition in January, Johnson provided one of the best anecdotes I’ve heard about the benefits of networking. Johnson’s message was clear: Don’t be too proud not to reach out to your associates when you need help. Take advantage and learn from their experiences.
Allen did that after a contentious experience he had with Green Bay’s then-head coach, Mike Sherman, in his first season as field manager for the Packers. During an early season game played in the rain, the footing became so poor that players were slipping and sliding on the sand-based field. Green Bay’s kick returner was injured and lost for the season after falling. Sherman was livid.
The day after the game, Sherman called Johnson into his office and lit him up like the Fourth of July. “He blamed me for the slippery conditions,” Johnson recalls.
Johnson told Sherman that he knew the field was slippery, but that he had seen worse conditions. Sherman then told Johnson that field managers were a dime a dozen, a threatening message if there ever was one.
But rather than go on the defensive with his response and risk a full-scale argument, Johnson took the high road, but not without sending a message of his own to the Green Bay coach.
“You may feel that way,” he told Sherman, “but you’ll never find anyone that will ever work as hard as I will.”
With that statement, however, Johnson knew he had just placed himself into a position to prevail … or else.
“They wanted a field that would perform perfectly in all conditions, and it was my job to get it there,” Johnson says.
Johnson, who admits he didn’t know enough about growing grass at that time, became a student of the profession. He consulted his industry peers and others from the STMA.
“My knowledge came from networking,” he says. “I began researching for better solutions.”
In 2007, at Johnson’s recommendation, Lambeau Field was rebuilt with GrassMaster, a hybrid grass system. A few years ago, Johnson, the 2015 president of STMA, implemented an artificial lighting system to extend the growing system for the system’s natural grass.
Not in the name of Vince Lombardi could Johnson have survived 17 years as field manager at Lambeau Field without a few attributes – a solid work ethic, agronomic smarts and a little help from his friends.
On the latter, he embraced his network.
“I turned a bad moment into a good opportunity,” Johnson says.
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF ISTOCK