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Coliseum is a dream job for grounds manager

John Reitman

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Working at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is a dream job for Scott Lupold.

On the last day of our (almost) week at the Rose Bowl helping superintendent Will Schnell's team prep for the big game, we visited with Scott Lupold, who is in his dream job as the grounds manager at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

We wanted to learn more about the challenges he faces at the other venue that makes Los Angeles a great college football city.

A lifelong USC fan, he remembers sitting in the last few rows in corner seats that have since been gobbled up during a renovation to make room for a video board. For the past three years, Lupold has been managing the turf at the stadium that has been home to his beloved Trojans since the building opened in 1923.

"When you are a diehard fan of the not just the college team but also the NFL team at the stadium where you work there is no letdown."

Every dream job has its challenges.

The field at the Coliseum is built on hard native soil that does not drain. Period. It gets a lot of play, and a massive pressbox blots out the sun from much of the field throughout the day. This week, after nearly 100 years, the old soil system comes out and a new sand-based medium will be installed in its place.

The air in the Coliseum is thick with history. It was the site of the 1932 Summer Olympics, 1959 World Series, Super Bowl I was played here in 1967 and it is where the 1972 Miami Dolphins capped the only undefeated season in NFL history in Super Bowl VII. In 1984, it became the first stadium in the world to host the Olympic Games twice. Seven USC players won the Heisman Trophy playing their trade here.

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The native soil at the Coliseum is so hard it virtually prevents the field from draining.

The LA Rams also called the Coliseum home from 1946-1979 and again from 2016 through December, when they played their last game there. Next year, the Rams and the Chargers, who have been playing their games in an adjacent soccer stadium, both will move into new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Between the Rams and the Trojans, the stadium has been the site of 14-17 games each fall in Lupold's three years at the Coliseum. Throw in some soccer - including two recent friendlies between Argentina vs. Chile and Brazil vs. Peru - and the Coliseum was the site of four major events in seven days. On a field that doesn't drain.

"I've never had the soil tested before," said Lupold. "I know I should, but I was afraid to find out what was in there."

Lupold's relationship with the Rams began when he was the field manager for the UC Irvine and the NFL franchised hired him, first as a consultant and later to run their training facility. His history with them is a big part of why he landed at the Coliseum.

His three years at the Coliseum have tested him as a professional turf manager.

There is a swath of turf measuring about 10,000 square feet that, at this time of year, never sees the sun, and he can't water the way he'd like to because of drainage issues. When Lupold covers the field during cold spells, the air temperature underneath can range from the high 70s on one side of the field to the low 40s on the other. He overseeds with creeping red fescue, which is more shade tolerant just to ensure turf cover on that part of the field.

There is a world of difference not only between the logos and colors used by USC and the Rams, but also fonts for numerals and the positioning of hashmarks are different for college and the NFL. Because of drainage problems, Lupold had to be judicious with how much water he uses to remove paint when converting from one field to the other - and back again.

"We use temporary paint," he said. "If I use too much water (to remove it), it won't dry out until February.

"This is all coming out next week, and I'm so excited that we will have a state-of-the-art mix with 8 inches of sand and new drainage."

Both the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl were resodded after Thanksgiving with Bandera Bermudagrass overseeded with ryegrass and grown on plastic, which creates a matrix of organic matter to resist tearing under foot traffic.

Because of the intense traffic of the football season along with the native soil issues, the sod installed in November was grown on a base nearly one-quarter-inch thicker than that at the Rose Bowl.

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Putting the finishing touches on the field the day of the LA Rams' last game at the Coliseum.

"The soil is so hard it can't root," Lupold said. "We play on (inch-and-a-half) because we need the roots." 

The football season began with a 419 Bermudagrass field that made it through six combined USC-Rams games over the first month of the season, and was resodded again with 419 in late September. That field lasted almost until the end of the season and was replaced in late November. 

Lupold verticuts aggressively and manipulates mowing heights to train the grass into upright growth. That helps with clean cleat-in-and-cleat-out with each step to further resist tearing. That's a key when a field gets as much play as the Coliseum, which was the site of 15 games in four months.

"You have to take the turf down for it to go up," he said. 

"When we play on Bermuda, we can scalp it all the way to brown on a Sunday after a Rams game, and put the blankets on for three or four days, and when we peel them back you have this beautiful growth that is at almost 100 percent playable by the next Saturday."

Although he will miss working with the Rams, he is eagerly anticipating next football season.

"I'm looking forward to having a one-team field," he said, "and what we are going to be able to accomplish here."



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