Coaches, of course, come from all walks of life. There aren’t many, though, who boast the band director/softball coach combo like Glendive’s Todd Naasz.
But after 21 years as Glendive’s band director and nine seasons as a softball coach (the last five as head coach), Naasz, 55, is hanging up the conductor’s baton and the lineup card.
“I’m not sure what it will be,” he says, “but I’m looking forward to a new venture.”
Naasz, a Circle native who also taught music in Columbus and Absarokee, talks about his dual careers as his Red Devils get set to defend their top seed at this weekend’s Eastern A tournament in Glendive.
BG: You’ve got quite the unusual coaching combo going on.
TN: “My mom was a musician – she was a 1941 graduate of Glendive – my twin sister is a music teacher out in Portland and my brother taught band for 10 years before getting out of teaching to sell insurance. Music has run in our family for quite some time. And I’ve always participated in baseball, track and American League baseball when we had a team over in Circle. Back in ’78, ’79, ‘80 we had 15 kids out for the team. We had a good base of kids.”
BG: What’s the main instrument you play?
TN: “I’m a sax player by trade. Right now I can play pretty much anything … as a band director you have to have a working knowledge of pretty much everything.”
Q: How do you stay proficient in each instrument?
TN: “I play along with the kids. During prep band at the high school I’ll play the trumpet. We’re really pretty proud of our pep band in Glendive. We’ve always had a real strong pep band in Glendive. It’s kind of hard to say goodbye to all this.”
Q: When you think about it, building a band and a sports team are really pretty similar.
TN: “You can’t have six quarterbacks on your football team, and everybody can’t play the trumpet, so you have to start moving kids around a little bit and fill out the needs of your band. I’ve moved kids into the tuba and some into the unique instruments, like the bassoon. And it takes commitment from the kids. Like the kids go to basketball camps and football camps, there are music camps, too, for kids to get better on their instruments.”
Q: The softball team is attempting to reach back-to-back state tourneys for the first time since 2005 and ’06 and just the third time overall since then. What’s been the key?
TN: “I dedicate a lot of that to our assistants, Katelyn Cunningham and Shane Mintz. I can't say enough good things about them. They’re dedicated, knowledgeable and smart about the game. And we’ve just had really good participation. The year I took over we were down to 12 kids. This year we had to actually cut kids. We had to cut kids because we couldn’t get everyone playing time. I think there’s 27 girls total through freshman, JV and varsity.”
BG: Consecutive regular-season Eastern A titles is a good accomplishment for this program in this league. Have you thought about that?
TN: “You try to teach the girls the strategy behind the game itself. I think that’s been good for us. We bunt, do some delayed steals, some hit and run, just try to teach them the strategy behind the game. It still all boils down to you gotta hit the ball, field the ball and throw the ball, but there’s definitely some strategy behind it. The other thing we’ve had a lot of success with is we hit every day in practice and it’s helped us top to bottom in our lineup. We score a lot of runs.”
BG: With retirement, how are you going to fulfill your daily music quota?
TN: "I just sit down at the piano or pull out my saxophone. Back in college I got a chance to play my horn with some groups that came through town. They needed to fill out bands, like the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Barry Manilow … It was a good experience. I was a young college kid. I was pretty adept at my horn and ended up joining the musician’s union in Billings. That’s how we got all those gigs. It was just a real good experience that I’m thankful I had a chance to do.”
Q: What will you miss most?
TN: “I’m going to miss the kids. Working with the kids has been a pleasure. It’s just time for me to do something different. I know I’ll miss the kids. It keeps me young and I still have a lot of energy for teaching and coaching and stuff. But it’s time to let someone else build a program and take care of it. One thing I like to tell my kids is you can only play sports for so long and then you become a spectator. But music is something you can take to your grave.”
Q: I’m a former trumpet player, so what I really want to know is … how many of those practice slips turned in by your band students and signed by their parents are legit? Mine usually weren’t.
TN (laughing): “Well, I would say maybe 50 percent. We thought we could outfox our teachers, too. But we forget, they were once kids, too.”