Toma responds to Super Bowl turf controversy: 'Change cleats'


Toma responds to Super Bowl turf controversy: 'Change cleats'

George Toma, the foremost expert on football playing surfaces, had a strong opinion about the much-talked-about grass on the floor of Levi’s Stadium for Super Bowl 50.

“I’m an 87-year-old man and I’ve been in this game for 74 years and been to 50 Super Bowls,” Toma told CSNBayArea.com on Wednesday. “And I thought this was the second-best sod we’ve had at a Super Bowl.”

Toma said the only field he ranks better than what he helped prepare for Sunday's game was Super Bowl XLI, which was played in driving rain storm in Miami on Feb. 4, 2007, featuring the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.

The Levi's Stadium playing surface came under scrutiny when CBS-TV reported players on the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers were changing cleats in the first quarter. Afterward, Denver defensive backs Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward were critical of the sod. Talib said the footing was “terrible.” Ward said the grass was “slippery.”

[RELATED: Aqib Talib: Levi's Stadium turf 'was terrible' for Super Bowl]

“Sometimes these players are hard-headed,” Toma said. “They won’t change their cleats and their play suffers. We gave the players the best playing field, a safe playing field. The cheapest insurance for an athlete from Pop Warner to the NFL is a good, safe playing field. And we try to give the fans in the stands and the fans on TV a thing of beauty.

“I know there’s a lot of controversy, but the field played excellent. But the two players that (complained), all they had to do was their change cleats.”

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller changed his cleats. Afterward, he remarked, “It was a great field.” And Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was on the losing side, described the surface as "outstanding.”

West Coast Turf supplied the sod that consisted of a blend of hybrid bermuda and rye, grown at its Northern California facility in Livingston. The grass was shipped to Levi’s Stadium, where the NFL took control of the field preparations a month before kickoff.

Before the game and at halftime, a grounds crew of more than 20 members were seen on the field with buckets to pick up small pieces of loose grass. Toma said there were no divots on the field. He said the crew was performing was standard cosmetic maintenance.

“What people saw us picking up was the grass clippings,” he said. “There was young rye grass that never rooted because we really couldn’t get it going because of all the rehearsals.

“No bermuda or any of the established rye grass came up. It was just the young rye grass. We had 32 hours of pre-game and halftime rehearsals. We covered field with a rain tarp and we have a football field painted on it. The field would get covered at 1 o’clock and it would be covered for the next seven hours.”

West Coast Turf’s vice president of sales and marketing John Marman said how the field played for each individual came down to their players’ cleat selection.

“Sometimes guys have to feel it out first, and maybe slip, before they pick up a heavier cleat that’s going to be a little slower,” he said. “Guys want to choose the lightest possible cleat and in some cases they’ll go with a molded cleat and not the deeper type of cleat that’ll be a little heavier and a little slower.”

Marman said the grass is not grown to suit a specific length of cleat because there are so many other facts that determine what’s best for each individual.

“Those things are determined by weather and moisture in the ground,” he said. “You never can tell. It’s on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. Things change on a field. What may be very playable at noon with a lighter cleat is going to need to be played on with a heavier cleat once the sun sets because the dew starts coming out of the (grass)."

The 49ers had safety issues on the field in each of their first two training camps. Jim Harbaugh pulled his team off the field for one practice session in 2014, and Jim Tomsula altered one practice in 2015 because of the field conditions.

Initially, the problem with the playing surface was the consistency of the sand mixture under the sod. Those problems have been solved, according to team officials. There appeared to be no obvious issues with the playing surface during the 2015 regular season.

“When you hear a couple of guys saying it wasn’t (good ), that’s going to be exposed and picked on a little more because people are kind of waiting in line to say something bad about the field at Levi’s Stadium,” Marman said. “It has a bit of a stigma attached to it. And things have picked up for the better. We were very proud of that field.”

Perhaps the biggest complication with developing a consistent playing surface at Levi's Stadium the abundance of events that are held at the venue that forces the field to be re-sodded multiple times throughout the year. And the lead-up to the 2016 regular season will be no less challenging.

There is a motocross event scheduled for April, a Beyonce concert in May, and four soccer matches in June. And after the 49ers report to training camp, Kenny Chesney and Coldplay have concerts scheduled for Aug. 6 and Sept. 3, respectively.

There is no timetable for when the field used for Super Bowl 50 must be replaced, Marman said. But West Coast Turf now has the capabilities of “recycling” the sod atop a semi-permeable membrane that retains and holds the sand and the root zone, he said. So a field that is removed from Levi’s Stadium can go back to the West Coast Turf facility to regenerate and get stronger before returning to the stadium at a later date.

“It’s not as wasteful and the sod gets better with age,” Marman said.

Marman said a particular phone call he received from a man known as “The Sultan of Sod” far overshadowed a couple of bad reviews from players who did not change their cleats during Sunday’s game. Toma reached out to Marman after the game to compliment his product.

Said Marman, “He personally called me and said, ‘Hey, this field was exceptional and it’s getting a bad rap, and I think it’s wrong.’ ”

Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'


Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'

The 49ers’ coaching staff made its feelings known to center Daniel Kilgore throughout the season.

But, in the past, that would not have necessarily meant everyone in the organization had the same thoughts about Kilgore, who was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

“The whole season, coaches and I had a good relationship,” Kilgore said Wednesday on conference call with Bay Area reporters. “Just talking and having one-on-ones with various coaches, I had a positive outlook for the future.

“But that’s just one thing. The coaches have an opinion of you, but then there’s also the front office. That’s two totally different things. And I think for the first time in a long time, our coaches and the front office are on the same page.”

Kilgore was working out back home in Tennessee on Wednesday when he signed a three-year contract to avoid hitting the free-agent market. Kilgore, 30, a seven-year NFL veteran, described the contract as a team-friendly deal.

The 49ers presented Kilgore with a contract offer during the season but negotiations did not get serious until just recently. While the 49ers expressed interest in retaining Kilgore, he said he did not know what the future held for him when he packed his belongings from the locker room on the day after the season ended.

“It kind of makes you nervous because in this profession, people like the younger guys,” Kilgore said. “You just never know what will happen at any time, any given day, in the NFL. So toward the end, that last day of clearing out the locker, I didn’t know if I’d be back. I didn’t know if the Niners would want me back.”

Kilgore was named the winner of the organization’s top honor for an offensive lineman. Kilgore won the Bobb McKittrick Award for best exemplifying the dedication, excellence and commitment of the long-time 49ers offensive line coach. Kilgore started all 29 games in which he appeared the past two seasons, including a career-high 16 games last season.

"I've been here seven years and I consider the Bay Area my second home,” Kilgore said. “To be able to extend my career wearing the 49ers jersey was special to me. This team is heading in the right direction, I wanted to be a part of it."

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

Matt Maiocco

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

When Jimmy Garoppolo signed a contract that could pay him up to $137.5 million over the next five years, he was asked what convinced him during his nine weeks with the organization that he wanted to be with the 49ers for the long term.

“I think it was a number of things,” Garoppolo said last week. “The team, the acceptance that they had of me when I first got here from the get-go, the coaching staff, Kyle and Rich. It was a very welcoming environment, and I really liked that. We had some success down the stretch, and you could see that pieces were falling into place. We've got a long way to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction.”

Kyle, of course, is head coach Kyle Shanahan. Rich Scagarello is the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach, and the person from whom Garoppolo spent the most time after arriving in Santa Clara on Oct. 31 after a trade with the New England Patriots.

Garoppolo earned $3.5 million in his first four NFL seasons. His new contract makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player, making an average of $27.5 million per season, with $48.7 million fully guaranteed.

Scangarello, appearing this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast, talked about what he learned about Garoppolo from working so closely with him to teach him Shanahan's offense. Scangarello said there is no question in his mind the money will not change Garoppolo’s approach to his work.

“That’s why it was easy for the organization and everyone to invest in somebody like Jimmy Garoppolo,” Scangarello said. “I just think that’s not the kind of person he is. If you met his family, you know where he comes from, what he’s about. His brothers, his parents, are just good, solid people people. He’s made of the right stuff and I just don’t see that affecting him in that way.

“It’s just not who he is. That’s the fun part of working with somebody like that every day. When they’re really talented and they appreciate everything and they work at it, you have a chance to be a successful organization and they can be a great player. And I don’t think those things will ever affect him.”