HELENA — HELENA -- On Monday, Mike Van Diest announced he'd be returning to the Frontier Conference. Though this time instead of purple and gold, it will be the maroon and gold as he joins the Montana State-Northern Lights as their defensive coordinator.
How Van Diest got that job? A call out of the blue.
"I was put in a situation in early July, four weeks before camp started, where I needed a new defensive coordinator. And so, you know, the first thing I do, when that happens is I take a deep breath, and, you know, I just start jotting down names," said Lights head coach Andrew Rolin. "The first ones that come to mind, and the name that just really couldn't leave my head was Mike Van Diest."
“I got a phone call from a 619 number, something like that, from San Diego, which I have no idea who that was but I knew it wasn't a car warranty [spam call] because that's usually a Glendive or Sidney phone call, but picked it up and it was Andrew and we got talking," said Van Diest. "He was asking me if I'd be interested, and have given it some thought about coming up to be the defensive coordinator.”
Rolin noted Van Diest's accolades speak for themselves, and they did factor into why he reached out, but a few other reasons were the driving forces behind trying to get Van Diest on his staff.
“To me, that's a byproduct of what his real value is, which is he's a great leader of young men," said Rolin. "He's done it, he's been there before as a head coach. Which is nice for me to be able to lean on. From a defensive standpoint, he's always had a stout defense."
Van Diest was slated to join the University of Mary coaching staff in North Dakota, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the Marauders' season and Van Diest returned home, where he was presented with the opportunity to join the Helena High School staff as an assistant. Van Diest worked with the Bengals last season and through the spring and summer, but when the opportunity presented itself to return to the college ranks, he jumped at it.
"I love the college game. I enjoyed high school last year, but I really -- I think I'm suited for the college game. The opportunity to be a defensive coordinator, I think was exciting for me. I want to just try to be a guy that can help [Rolin], you know, improve that program," said Van Diest. "I know a lot of hard work and effort has gone into there."
Van Diest's Lights debut will be against the College of Idaho Yotes on August 28 at Tilleman Field. When the Lights travel to Helena to take on Carroll College on October 9, it will be the first time that Van Diest will be on the visitor's side of Nelson Stadium.
"Looking at the schedule. I didn't even look at it before, but then I saw the schedule that Northern is the homecoming opponent for Carroll College. It's also Hall of Fame induction for Nick Howlett and Jim Hogan, which is very deserving for those two, but it's also induction to the Hall of Fame, which I was a part of, the 2010 National Championship team," said Van Diest. "I talked to [Rolin] and to kind of ease the situation, I'm going to be in the press box. I'm not gonna be on the sideline, I think I'd be too emotional. I'm going to go to the press box, so if anybody wants to throw anything at me or yell, they're going to have to do it in close quarters."