SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Even in retirement, Mike Van Diest is still winning.
The former Carroll College football coach, he of six NAIA national championships, 203 wins, 14 conference titles and multiple all-Americans and players of the year was officially enshrined in the NAIA Hall of Fame on Sunday evening at the American Football Coaches Association convention.
Van Diest’s son, Shane, who played linebacker under his father at Carroll College, introduced him at the ceremony on Sunday evening.
“That part, Shane presenting me, I’ve had a chance to do that with some of my former players at Wyoming. John Burrough, I did that for him a few years ago at the Wyoming Hall of Fame, he played in the NFL for a lot of years, but I know how important that is. It was a natural pick to get Shane to do it and he was the only presenter that got a standing ovation after his talk. It was very emotional. He did a great job,” said Van Diest. “(Him) growing up as a Carroll College football player and a Carroll College fan, it was wonderful. The highlight was having 17 people there with me — friends, family, former players, former coaches — that was special. (Carroll College president) Dr. John Cech and his family and to have Shane do that was more than I, it was tough for me to hold it together during that talk.”
Van Diest, who retired on Nov. 12, just two days after the final game of his 20th season with Carroll College, was honored in front of family and former players and coaches on Sunday, cementing his status as one of the top NAIA football coaches of all time. Van Diest is in the top 10 nationally in total wins at the NAIA level, while his winning percentage, 78.9 percent, is unofficially No. 2 after the 2018 season.
A 1970 graduate of Helena High, Van Diest cracked into coaching in 1976 at the University of Wyoming, his alma mater. He was also an assistant coach at Montana (1980-85), the University of Massachusetts – Amurst (1986) and Northwestern (1987-91) before returning to Wyoming until 1998.
Carroll College hired Van Diest to replace fellow Hall of Fame coach Bob Petrino Sr. and the Fighting Saints found immediate success, winning 12 consecutive Frontier Conference championships from 2000-11. Carroll won NAIA national championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010, finishing runner-up in 2011.
Congratulations Hall of Famer! Thank you for EVERYTHING you’ve done for my family and I as well as @FootballCarroll Blessed to have played & coached for you. Your mentor ship has been critical to any success I’ve had. Love you!#NAIAHallofFame #AFCA #FaithFamilyFootball pic.twitter.com/w1ZXI8emn8
— Coach Jason Petrino (@JPetrino) January 7, 2019
A handful of Van Diest’s former players and coaches were in attendance Sunday, adding to an already special accomplishment.
“To see the guys out there, (former assistants) Nick (Howlett) and Jim (Hogan), Jason Petrino, he played and coached with us, Duncan McLean who coached. Then you have Alex Pfannenstiel and Alex Kastens, Isaiah Cech and Joe Horne. There were so many of those guys. And then Mike Sanders, who was a high school friend of mine and grew up one of my really good friends, he’s a professor at the University of Texas and he drove up. He had the great pleasure of playing for (the late) coach John Gagliardi at Saint John’s. For him to drive up on his own meant a lot to me for him to be here for this,” Van Diest said. “There were so many things, (my son) Shane and his wife and our granddaughter, certainly with (my wife) Heidi and (my son) Clay, you don’t do it without those people. We get all the pats on the back, but gosh darn it, those guys, friends, family and faith gets us through everything.”
Van Diest cited “the right timing” during his retirement press conference. Carroll finished the 2018 campaign with a 5-6 record after three consecutive 4-6 seasons. Former Carroll College football player Troy Purcell was hired as Van Diest’s replacement on Dec. 7.
Former Carroll College and Rocky Mountain College athletic director Bruce Parker will also be inducted as a 2018 Hall of Fame member. The nine-time Frontier Conference athletic director of the year will be honored at the NAIA National Convention in West Palm Beach, Fla. April 11-15.
The AFCA convention continues through Wednesday, where Van Diest plans to take in a few of the events and, like he did during his retirement press conference, hinted at a potential return to the coaching world down the road.
“There are a lot of games to watch on TV. I’m going to go over to (former Carroll College president and current University of the Incarnate Word president) Dr. Tom Evans’ house Monday night to watch the FBS national championship game with him and his family, so that will be fun,” he said. “Just enjoy this part of it and see where the next step takes us. There are some things in the works that hopefully in the next week or so we’ll get straightened out. I’m not going to be completely retired, there are some things out there, and who knows what happens in a year or two with the football career.”