Ken Mrock
Head Groundskeeper // Chicago Bears
2023 Class of Pioneers in the Field

To have a career spanning over four decades in the turf industry is a great accomplishment. To have 37 years of that career be with one organization is a feat admired by all. To be that organization’s first and only official head groundskeeper puts you in a class of your own. 

Ken Mrock has been the Head Groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears since 1987, being the first full-time groundskeeper the football club ever hired. When we asked Mrock how the industry has evolved since his start in the ‘80s, he reflected on the vast technology and research advancements but said earning ourselves a seat at the table has been the most exciting evolution to witness. Mrock said, “today, we are front and center, in my humble opinion. That’s exactly where we should be. The advancements we’ve made to impact the playability, aesthetics, and safety of our playing surfaces is a credit to all of us in the industry. We’ve earned a seat at the table, where our opinion is not only asked for, but respected. So many of us didn’t have that voice or visibility when we started out years ago. There was no conversation. The commitment of everyone in this industry from parks and rec to the NFL to vendors, has elevated us all. When one of us succeeds and gains visibility for our profession, we all succeed.” 

Mrock is one of the leaders in our industry who has been carving out the path for a groundskeeper to succeed since turf first came on his radar. When Mrock was 13 years old and caddying at a local country club on the outskirts of Chicago, the greenkeepers caught his attention. At a young age, he worked up the nerve to ask the superintendent for a job on his crew. He was told to come back when he was 16 years old. He’s been working with grass ever since.

After rising to be a superintendent in the late ‘70s, Mrock's background and reputation got him an introduction with the Bears crew. After helping with tarp pulls from time to time and sharing his own ideas on how the football club’s facility and field could improve, the Bears made Mrock a full-time offer to switch over to a different side of the industry. Mrock reflected on the learning curve he experienced in those early days of managing turfgrass. Mrock said, “coming from golf, I had a different mindset when talking turf. In football there are so many different pressures put on the field and the learning curve was an undertaking to say the least. When you factor in the weather conditions, the safety of players, the playability, oh and making the field TV ready. I knew I needed to rely on industry resources if I was going to succeed. I immediately joined STMA and was exposed to some of the trailblazers who shaped our industry.”

Mrock talked about several of the industry leaders he had the chance to learn from that served as an inspiration to him over the years. Everything from the work that was being done behind the scenes to academia to vendors to his peers was truly incredible. Mrock said, “when you’ve had a career as long as mine, it’s dangerous to call out just one or two people who have impacted your success because the list is endless in my case. I’ve been so fortunate to work with professionals on the local and national level who have made this career a long-term and rewarding journey for me. Not only have I seen my peers accomplish incredible things for our industry, but I’ve made life-long friends along the way.” 

I can easily say Ken is the type of boss most people dream to have. It's truly humbling to think I've been able to learn from one of the best in the industry. He pushes us all to be the best we can and guides us along the way. You would never guess he's been doing this for 30 years plus because the type of high positive energy he brings day to day. It's really hard to give you any specific examples because he genuinely mentors and inspires every day with just who he is as man. The thing I hope that resonates with people after reading this is just how good of a man Ken is. "Family first" is something I'll remember hearing him saying more than anything."

Isaac Farley, Assistant Groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears

Mrock, like so many in the industry, knows the power of mentorship and how important it is for the next generation coming up. Mrock described turfgrass as a pass-it-along business that presents a new challenge each day. When talking about the importance of mentorship, it wasn’t about particular skills or certifications that held weight for Mrock. Rather, Mrock said it’s vital as a boss and leader to teach the next generation how to have a healthy relationship with this profession. Mrock said, “in learning the business side of our industry, each spoke is important to the wheel. There are certainly times you’ll get worn out. There have been times when I’ve been here four days in a row. With conversions and the urgent nature of our business, we need to mentor these young ones about how to make a healthy career out of this profession. I’ve always preached to my assistants that it's about small steps and you need to find something outside of here that recharges you.” The things that recharge Mrock are core to his success but also a core principle of the Chicago Bears organization.

As you walk into Halas Hall, the headquarters for Bears football club, you’ll see “faith, family and football” inscribed on the path. Mrock credited this mantra as a daily reminder that you need a balance in order to have a happy life. Mrock said, “you’ve got to find the balance that works for you. If you have a good work life, you have a good home life. And if you have a good home life, you have a good work life. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to find the things that recharge me so I can be the best husband, father, grandfather, boss and professional. I love spending the day with my wife and the grandkids or a day on the golf course.”  

Ken takes great pride, in consistently, providing the bears with a great playing surface throughout his entire career and pushes us to do the same. Ken deserves recognition for how much work and time he has put into this field of work over his years. Through his experience over the last 40-50 years in the industry, he has gained the respect of so many individuals, but has always treated everyone with the same respect and courtesy. It has been one of the best choices in my life to accept my position at the Bears, and Ken has a lot to do with that. From the knowledge he has taught us, to the passion he has instilled in us, I couldn’t have asked for a better boss, leader, and person to be around. He is one of the great ones flat out."

Adam Holtz, Assistant Groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears


While Mrock's desire for balance has worked for him, he doesn’t claim to have it figured out. In fact, Mrock said this profession has taught him that the minute you think you have it all figured out, you don’t. After decades of working in turfgrass management, Mrock acknowledged that this profession is much more than a clock in, clock out operation. The job has defined who he is in many ways and he identifies with the “groundskeeper’s DNA.” Groundskeepers are built differently. Mrock said, “this career has taught me so much, a lot of which I’m sure other groundskeepers can relate to because we are a special breed. I really believe that everyone in this industry, myself included, thrives with the unknown. We finish what we start and constantly strive to meet the needs of our plant, our surfaces, our athletes and our ownership. And we do all this under the context of a job that is more likely to receive criticism before applause. But we take pride in having a hand in presenting a surface for athletes, ranging from the peewees to the professional. In being a groundskeeper you have the opportunity to make a difference and that responsibility is a big one. But in all my years, those who I've seen take it, wear that responsibility like a badge of honor.”

Ken is one of the most well-respected people in the sports turf industry. As he should be. He does things the right way, with honesty and respect. In my opinion there are very few people in the industry that can do both, walk the walk & talk the talk. Ken does both, and has for decades. Ken is in his element as soon as he steps foot on campus at Halas Hall or down at Soldier Field. He has told us at work we make him feel young again. In truth, he can keep up with us, often time he outworks us. I could go on but a good take home message about Ken is rather simple. We need a lot more people like Ken in the sports turf industry if we plan to continue to grow this industry in the right way. He's an absolute role model and someone I personally look up to / strive to be more like every day."

Ben Baumer, Assistant Groundskeeper for the Chicago Bears

Four individuals who Mrock described as unbelievable professionals and who proudly wear the groundskeeper badge of honor have helped Mrock shape the future of the Bears organization. Mrock’s assistants, Paul Hitselberger, Isaac Farley, Benjamin Baumer and Adam Holtz have been along or helped lead the way to many of Mrock’s greatest accomplishments. Mrock said, “I’m personally proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as an organization, all of which has been possible through the support of the Bears organization. One of those being our adaptation of a hot water heated practice field. We have seen tremendous growth in our facilities and earned ourselves a seat at the table in the planning. Building the future of the Bears organization and also being a pillar of its past has been rewarding, beyond words. I’m just a regular guy who has been blessed with this noble and humble profession.” 

Mrock is a groundskeeper who is in a class of his own. A professional who has paved the way for the next generation to have a seat at the table. A long-time and dedicated steward to the Chicago Bears. Mrock hopes that the true worth of everyone working in sports turf continues to be recognized, and that the rewards of being a groundskeeper are not ever taken for granted. A great deal of Ken Mrock’s history in the turfgrass industry will serve as the foundation for our future. And for that, he has our admiration, appreciation and gratitude.