COLUMBUS — John Smith’s long career as Columbus football coach ended five years ago. Last year, he retired from teaching. In May, he stepped down from another longtime position: Stillwater softball coach.
Smith took over the Stillwater softball program — a co-op of Columbus, Park City and Absarokee — when it began in 2001 and nobody else has held the job since. That will change next year, and Smith is more than ready to move on.
“I’ve had a lot of hunting and fishing I’ve missed out on over the years, so I’m looking forward to it,” he told 406mtsports.com on Tuesday. “I feel like I did what I should do.
“It’s been fun.”
Smith, 60, said his replacement hasn’t been officially determined yet, but he assumes it’s going to be his now-former assistant Justine Taylor, a 2012 Belgrade graduate who played softball at Dawson Community College and Carroll College.
At the beginning of this past softball season, Smith told his players that he would be calling it quits.
“My biggest thing that I wanted to make sure happened was that we had somebody who would continue the program,” he said. “I was sticking around long enough to make sure that things were going to be taken care of.”
Smith earned one state title in his quarter century as Columbus’ football coach in 1992. In 19 years as softball coach, his teams won four championships: in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. Of the four, the 2007 title stands out the most to Smith.
“We really didn’t, as the season progressed, look like a team that would win a state championship. But as the season came to a close and we went to the state tournament, our kids played incredibly well,” he said. “I could definitely see the tide change there with the interest level, as it always does.
"You win a state championship, everybody wants to play. They worked hard and had fun. Great bunch of kids.”
Barring a return from retirement, Smith’s coaching career will have lasted exactly 40 years. His first coaching job was with the Riverside Middle School football program in 1979. He also coached some basketball and track and field in his career, but he mainly focused on football and, after 2001, softball.
Smith taught special education for 16 years and was a physical education/health teacher for about 20. Last year he was elected the Stillwater County Superintendent of Schools.
The success and longevity didn’t shield Smith from headaches. He doesn’t believe the common coaching refrain that “the kids have changed” over his four decades of coaching. Rather, he has seen social changes that he said often made his job more difficult.
“I’m old school, I’m ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ and there just seems to be a lot more gray area now, where parents feel they can cross the line, and kids feel they can cross the line. There’s no more black and white,” he said. “With all the club sports being introduced over the years, there’s more parental involvement in that. Where(as) you come to a high school level, there’s no parental involvement. It’s black and white.
"It should be. But a lot of school administrators nowadays don’t see it as black and white. They’re kind of leaning toward gray now, too.
"I’m not saying it’s bad or good either way. Whoever does it now, that will be their normal. For me, it’s not normal anymore.”
Clashes with parents certainly didn’t increase Smith’s odds of coaching longer, but he was ready to retire regardless. Softball has limited his ability to hunt and fish during the spring, and it has prevented him from seeing his family as much as he’d like. His children, stepchildren and grandchildren are scattered throughout the region.
Smith’s term as superintendent will expire in 2022, so he’s still chipping away at full retirement. But with teaching and coaching now out of focus, he’s looking forward to a surplus of time.
“You get to be 60 years old and you start thinking a little bit more about, you know, my time’s getting a little shorter,” he said. “I want to have some fun and do some stuff I haven’t done.”