(Editor’s note: Carroll College athletics release)
HELENA — His legend continues to grow.
The NAIA selected Carroll College football coach Mike Van Diest to be inducted into the 2018 NAIA Hall of Fame. The all-time winningest coach in Saints history joins former Carroll College quarterback and assistant coach Tyler Emmert, former tight end Casey Fitzsimmons, coach Raymond Hunthausen and coach Bob Petrino as the only members of the Saints to be inducted into the hall.
“I am very honored to be included in this outstanding club of athletes and coaches,” Van Diest said. “I went online tonight to view the current members of the NAIA Hall of Fame and was humbled to think that I am now standing in their company. This is a tremendous recognition for Carroll College, all the coaches and players that I have been blessed to walk out on Saturday afternoons with and be a part of this great game, college football. To my family, Heidi, Shane and Clay, thank you for being in my life and supporting me in my career. I wish my mom and dad were alive to share in this moment!”
Van Diest took over the Saints’ football program in 1999 and reached new heights. Carroll won six national championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010 to go along with 14 Frontier Conference Championships, which includes 12 straight from 2000-2011.
He was selected as the Frontier Conference Coach of the Year 10 times, as well as the NAIA National Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2005. The American Football Coaches Association selected him as the Coach of the Year in 2003, 2007 and 2010.
“This is a very deserving honor for coach Van Diest,” Saints athletic director Charlie Gross said. “The success of Mike’s leadership of Carroll Football goes well beyond six national championship, several player of the year awards and dozens of All-Americans. He’s a cornerstone of Fighting Saints Athletics and set the standard of excellence for all of us to follow.”
He’s coached four players to becoming the NAIA Player of the Year: Emmert (twice), Owen Koeppen (2008) and Chance Demarais (2011).
Now in his 20th season as the Saints’ head coach, he owns a 201-49 (80.4 percent) record with a 38-8 record in the NAIA Playoffs. Under his guidance, the Saints posted 15 consecutive winning seasons from 2000-2014.
“Coach Van Diest’s records and accomplishments speak for themselves,” Carroll College president John Cech, PhD, said. “I am impressed by the thousands of student relationships he has amassed over the past 20 years at Carroll. Not only has Van Diest been a coach to the Fighting Saints, he has also been an integral part of the lives of the players during their time at Carroll and continuing after graduation.”
Cech’s seen first hand what Van Diest’s tutelage can do to young men. Cech’s son Isaiah played for Van Diest until suffering a career-ending injury. Now, Isaiah is in his second year as a student assistant on Van Diest’s staff.
“That is the kind of person Coach Van Diest is: tough as nails on the field but compassionate and supportive of his team members throughout their collegiate careers and beyond,” Cech said. “Coach Van Diest always emphasizes the role of football in building strong, ethical young men who are loyal friends and family members and great students as well as committed athletes. He leads by example, and connects with the athletes not just as players, but as people.”
There are few others who have thrived with success, longevity and instilling the right values in his players like Van Diest has.
A graduate of Helena High in 1970, Van Diest broke into coaching in 1976 with this first stop at Wyoming as an assistant until 1979. Then, he went to Montana where he served as an assistant from 1980-85. That led to a job at the University of Massachusetts from 1986, also as an assistant. He assisted Northwestern after that from 1987-90. He returned to Wyoming as an assistant from 1991-98.
Then, Van Diest came to Carroll — and the rest is history that continues to be made.
Note: Former Carroll College athletic director Bruce Parker, who most recently held the A.D. position at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, will also be inducted into the NAIA’s 2018 class.