The Man Behind The Scenes: Darrell Halberg

Miami Quarterly, Sports Section

Issue Date: 11/14/10

There is a time when only one man owns the football field.

It’s now, the breaking of dawn, every morning during the football season. Darrell Hallberg awakens the sky with the stadium lights. Then he gets to work. He proceeds to his lair where he does the laundry, checks the hardware in the helmets, makes sure the players’ breakfast is ready.

When the Miami University football team make its way over to Yager Stadium about three hours later, their clean uniforms and gear await them in the locker room. The balls are on the field, headsets are programmed, and the dummies are already in position.

Fans don’t know how everything on the field ends up there in time for a game, but Darrell Hallberg does. After everything is set in place, Hallberg makes his way to a room in Yager Stadium where he spends the rest of his day to make the magic happen.

“Darrell is the guy behind the scenes,” Miami’s quarterback Zac Dysert says. “You don’t realize how much he does…he does everything for us. I don’t know too many people that could do his job.” To fully appreciate what all Darrell Hallberg does, you must first understand who Darrell Hallberg really is. “We’re here so long during the day,” Hallberg says, “you have to love what you do – and I do.”

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Hallberg stands out on the sidelines of the football field.  He sports a bald head, mustache, and a goatee. He is tall, about 6’3, and broad – the size of a linebacker. But he’s not a football player. He knew he couldn’t play the game, especially with a bad knee, but he wanted to be a part of it. He thought athletic training was his calling.

Not too far from his home in Columbia, S.C., Hallberg enrolled in the University of Southern Carolina, or as he calls it, “The USC,” on an academic scholarship. His path to athletic training came to a short end; then he took human anatomy. “Shit, that was it,” Hallberg smirks. “Memorizing those bones and muscles…I knew that wasn’t for me.” He spent the rest of his time at school working as an equipment manager and assistant under the football team’s Coach Lou Holtz and graduated with a degree in Sports Administration in 2001.

It’s an interesting story how Hallberg came about working at Miami. On a shelf behind his desk is Jon Falk’s book, “If These Walls Could Talk,” about his inspiring experience as University of Michigan’s long-time equipment manager. While working in Michigan, Hallberg and Falk had become acquaintances. A 1971 product of Miami University, Falk recommended the equipment director position to Hallberg, which had just opened up. “The tradition and history of Miami University is unlike any other,” says Hallberg. He took the job as director of equipment services at Yager Stadium in July of 2008.

Hallberg’s real inspiration, however, comes from his father, who always pressed Hallberg to work his hardest, even when he didn’t want to.  Such life lessons stuck with Hallberg as he pushed himself throughout high school and college to obtain an academic and student team-manager scholarship. He worked hard and took every chance he got to be where he is today, even though it meant dropping out of graduate school with only four classes left to take.  “I was 21 years old,” Hallberg says, “I was going to be the head equipment manager at the age of 21.”

Now, at the age of 31, Hallberg has worked in equipment manager positions for three universities: South Carolina State University, Eastern Michigan University, and now Miami.

Behind Darrell’s desk are seven autographed photographs of Indianapolis Colts players. Growing up a die-hard Colts fan, Hallberg spent a college summer interning with the Indianapolis NFL team. It didn’t take long for Hallberg to realize the NFL, just like athletic training, wasn’t the path he wanted to take. It wasn’t just the job that was important to him, but the relationships that he would build. “Students and young people keep me young and keep me fresh,” explains Hallberg. “You can really see what impact you have on them.”

A great deal of that impact comes from the close relationships he forms with the players, which he demonstrates on and off the field. “He’s very substantial to our program because student athletes come in contact with him daily,” Miami’s Athletic Director Brad Bates says. “He’s a great role model for them and Darrell handles that with great enthusiasm.”

During the football season, Hallberg’s life at home is not what you would call ordinary. For Hallberg and his wife, Jessica, their day starts before the sun even rises. When Darrell wakes up for work, Jessica wakes up with him. Their lives revolve around football; when Hallberg’s at Yager Stadium, Jessica’s at home watching football, and when Hallberg’s at a game, Jessica’s in the stands cheering. “We (football wives) always joke that we become ‘football widows’,” Jessica says. Although Hallberg doesn’t mind washing over a hundred boys’ sweaty practice gear every day, he refuses to touch his own laundry at home. “If I were doing laundry all day I wouldn’t want to do laundry at all either,” she laughs.

Hallberg gets to Yager Stadium around 5 a.m. every day, turns on the lights, unlocks the doors and carries the trunks and equipment out to the field. Before every game and practice, he lays out the jerseys and uniforms together in the players’ locker room and checks the players’ gear for all 105 of them. He brings the coaches’ clothes up to their offices and sets up their headsets so they can communicate during the game. His perfectionism lies in the products of his work, as there has never been a mishap during a game. “He always asks me how my equipment feels and even has me check the footballs before I use them to see if I like them,” Dysert says. “Because of Darrell, we don’t have to worry about equipment issues.”

In Miami University’s athletic program, everyone is family, and the heart of that family is located within one of the many red doors of Yager Stadium’s first floor: the equipment director’s office. It’s safe to say the door propped open to Hallberg’s office doesn’t really exist. Throughout the day people are constantly walking in and out. It may be Coach Mike Haywood asking for special equipment for the upcoming game, one of the football players just stopping by to say “Hi,” or Toutti, the 72-year-old local fan who’s been volunteering with Miami’s athletics for 15 years. “He’s very energetic, very crafty and very witty,” the Associate Athletic Director Jude Killy says. “Everyone that works with him loves him.” The outrageously patterned pants he wears every Friday before a game could also have something to do with it.

Hallberg’s office is where he spends his long hours fixing helmets, washing clothes, and making contract and purchasing deals for Miami’s athletics. It may sound boring, but according to Hallberg, “it’s always fun in the bat cave”. The first thing you see when you walk through his office door is a ‘No Whining’ sign. There is never a moment when it gets quiet at work. There is always music playing and if Hallberg had his choice, Hootie and the Blowfish would be on repeat all day, every day. He not only has a shrine of Hootie and the Blowfish at his house, but he has played golf multiple times with the popular band back home in South Carolina, as well.

Part of the fun also comes from working with his assistant, Chad Burns, who followed Hallberg to Miami University after graduating from Eastern Michigan University, where they had met. Whenever Hallberg begins to tell a story, Burns can finish it, whether it is about an incident at practice that morning, or a recollection from Hallberg’s wedding.  “He’s the best person I’ve ever worked for, ”Burns says. “I want to do things right and Darrell’s the best person to learn from to be a great equipment manager.”

According to Hallberg, however, he will never be a “good” equipment director. “I don’t want to get stale,” he explains. “I know I can always improve – helping to coach, helping the players become better players and building their character.” Coach Mike Haywood, who has worked for various universities throughout the nation, claims without question, “he is the greatest.”

Despite being contempt with his job now, he is driven by his ambitions. Hallberg’s goal is to work in a university’s athletic administration, but for now, he hopes that he will be voted by his peers to be ‘Equipment Manager of the Year’, also called ‘The Glenn Sharp Award’, which is organized by the Athletic Equipment Managers’ Association. Once a year, the AEMA selects one person from each district and is voted on at a national meeting by its general membership. A person can only win the award one time.

“Darrell would be a strong candidate for any recognition,” Bates says. “He works so far beyond the job description – if he sees an area of need he makes sure to get it done regardless if it’s part of his job or not.”

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It’s game time and the teams are warming up on the field at Yager Stadium. Out on the 50-yard line is Hallberg, standing as a barrier between Miami and the Ohio University players. When a player walks by, Hallberg pats his shoulder. All of his padding is in place.  Due to a chance of rain showers, Coach Haywood has a rain jacket waiting on the bench.

Because the RedHawks won their game the week before, Hallberg is wearing the same outfit he wore the week before, cleaned of course. That Thursday, he got his hair cut, just as he had the Thursday before last weekend’s game. “When we win next week,” Hallberg says, “I’ll cut my hair again and wear the same thing too.”

You could call him superstitious or you could just call him optimistic. He does, however, have a gargoyle next to his television to “keep away bad spirits” and has a bamboo plant on the round table, which is believed to bring good luck. “It wasn’t here last season,” he jokes, “but we do this year.”

The game begins and Hallberg takes his place on the sideline, attached to Coach Mike Haywood’s hip. Haywood explodes at a wrong call made by the referee. Hallberg walks up to the referee and Haywood and pulls Haywood aside. Haywood is calm again and the call is changed.

When the game is over and the players go home, Hallberg, once again, is the only one on the field. He returns to his office and begins the laundry. Even if he doesn’t get home until 3 a.m., he will be back the next morning.

The hours are long and the pressure to protect the players is immense. To Hallberg, this isn’t a job, it’s his passion.

“He is the most important person for protecting our students during a sport that can be very dangerous,” Bates says, “I couldn’t think of anyone greater for that responsibility.”