Getting To Know: Natalie Kozlowski
Coach Kozlowski Enters Her Second Season with Mean Green Softball
Head coaches are at the front and center of every college athletic team. Their assistant coaches are tirelessly working behind the scenes, juggling multiple things at once. What are their stories?
Every Wednesday during the summer, MeanGreenSports.com will be featuring an assistant coach from a North Texas team.
Natalie Kozlowski may be fresh off her first season at North Texas, but she is no stranger to the current Mean Green softball coaching staff. After spending 12 years together at East Carolina, head coach Tracey Kee was reunited with Kozlowski in Denton in 2014. "Coach Koz," as she is called by players and colleagues alike, was a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Mideast Region Coaching Staff-of-the-Year in 2010 and 2011, and was integral in helping ECU capture a pair of Conference USA tournament championships and three NCAA tournament appearances.
How did you get involved in coaching?
"Well I got involved in coaching as soon as I was done with my playing career, because I wanted to stay involved in athletics and I wanted a chance to give back to the sport that had given me so much. When I was in grad school at UMass, I coached basketball and softball at a local high school. It was a way to stay involved and keep my competitive juices flowing by coaching."
You said you coached both basketball and softball. How did you end up with softball?
"Basketball is my passion and my first love. I was coaching both basketball and softball at a division I school in Baltimore - Towson - and the head basketball coach got fired so all the assistant coaches were relieved as well. So that's when I stayed in my role with softball, and I just never got back into basketball after that. But I love softball, and I love being outdoors as well as the strategy behind the game. It was a good avenue to take. Not to mention I like having my Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays off as a coach for a spring sport - basketball is a long hard season."
What brought you to North Texas, after being in the north for so long?
"I was in North Carolina with coach Kee for nearly 13 years. Coaching is like playing, you have to find the right coach that fits your values, your philosophies and your system, and we just had a great report and I knew I still wanted to coach softball with her at North Texas. I think it is very important to have that camaraderie in coaching staffs, because if you don't get along with your coach and don't have the same values and beliefs, then it can have a negative outcome. It can trickle down to the team. I know I just have that connection with Tracey, so that's why I came to North Texas, to help her build something down here.
Have you had to adjust to any differences from up in the north and down here in Texas?
"Texas is a BIG state - HUGE. Where we came from in North Carolina, it was a college town so everything was focused on the university. I mean, we had to drive almost an hour and a half to the nearest airport to fly out for road trips. But coming to Denton, with Dallas and Fort Worth in the neighboring area, there is just so much more for adults to do. The area isn't just centered around students, so there are actual things for working adults to do. It's just a lot of fun to get invested in the community. I will say, I'm not quite used to all of the country music just yet. I'm still adjusting there."
Would you say there's a difference in recruiting from Greenville, NC, and Denton, TX?
"Oh, my gosh, it's like night and day different. The talent in DFW is amazing. We can go in our backyard and find quality, talented, competitive kids. Back when we were coaching on the east coast, we had to actually go all the way to the west coast to get kids to fill our program. It is so nice being in Texas and in the DFW area. Kids want to come to North Texas and its just such a great place to be to recruit."
With no sanctioned baseball team at North Texas, how does it feel to be the only stick and ball show in town?
"It's nice to be the main focus of the spring-athletics season and have all eyes on our sport, but at the same time it's also nice to have that equivalent sport on the male side. I enjoy picking the brains of the baseball coaches and watch them play. Softball and baseball are still very similar sports, as different as they are. It definitely has its pluses and minuses."
Can you tell us more about your relationship with coach Kee and coach Christina Merrida?
"I coached against Kee originally as an assistant at an opposing school, and I just liked her style of coaching and knew I wanted to be on her staff. When I lost my basketball-coaching role, she offered me a job at East Carolina, so I joined her as an associate head coach. People ask me all the time, 'Why don't you just become a head coach,' but my role with coach Kee almost feels like head coach material. She gives me so many responsibilities and accountabilities with different parts of our program that I don't feel like there is anything more I could want. She listens to my input and we really have the same style of play and kids that we are looking for and what we want to accomplish on and off the field. We just mesh and gel really well. When you work for someone so long, you can almost finish each other's sentences—we are always on the same page. And Teenie (coach Merrida), we've known her for almost 10 years now. Gosh. She played for us at ECU and was one of those types of kids that was hard working, productive, committed, competitive and very loyal to our program. We knew she would be a great asset to us. After year one, she's maturing as a coach and is learning every day."
What are some duties/tasks that you carry out as an associate head coach that some people may not realize?
"With the director of operations position uncommon amongst the Olympic sports at North Texas, my job really encompasses a wide range of tasks, from making rental van reservations to monitoring the budget and even tackling the monster of making every players' class schedule work with the practice schedule. I have to drive a van full of players on the road, which is okay because I like knowing that everything will get done. If there's a mistake, it's on you and you can't blame anyone else. I think being a hands-on coach helps develop those relationships with the kids, when they see how much you're doing for them and how visible you are, and how much you care. I don't do the laundry, I can't say that, but I do a lot of everything off the field."
What are some of your most treasured/successful moments as a player and/or as a coach?
"As a coach, winning two Conference USA championships at ECU was a thrill. And more importantly and relative to this area, I thoroughly enjoyed knocking Texas out of their regional - we won, 1-0 - en route to the regional final. That's one of our most favorite wins ever to look back on as a staff. As a player, it's been so long that it's starting to get hard to remember. But I loved being a player, I loved traveling to different schools and having great teammates. For me, I played three sports, so I was always in season and it was easy to stay up and motivated. I loved the relationships that I developed with people I still have this day."
If you had to make your best guess, what do you think your lifetime free throw percentage would be?
"Probably 72 percent. I can get out there and hoop it up."
What makes it all worth it?
"To me it's worth it when you have seniors that graduate and they get it. They get the big picture and become better people after their careers are over, it's not just about building better athletes, but better people. They're truly grateful for all the tough love they were given and finally realize that everything we do as a staff is with a goal of helping them succeed in life."