HELENA — You can’t keep Mike Van Diest away from coaching football.
Just over a year after Van Diest announced his retirement from being Carroll College’s head football coach he was back on the sidelines.
But in a different capacity and with a new school.
Van Diest was hired by NCAA Division II University of Mary’s football program in Bismark, North Dakota as a defensive assistant coach.
“I always thought I was a better position coach than a head coach,” Van Diest said. “One thing that really attracted me to the Carroll job was you also had to be a position coach. I was the defensive coordinator, so I had a chance to get my hands into the meat and potatoes of football. I loved it.”
Van Diest spent 20 seasons with Carroll, from 1999 to 2018, where he won 14 Frontier Conference championships and six NAIA National Championships.
He announced his retirement in November 2018 after a fourth consecutive losing season as the Saints finished 5-6.
“When I retired, it was for a couple reasons,” Van Diest said. “I wanted to be a fan of my son Clay playing hockey during his senior year. Just being a parent was great.”
“Twenty years is a long time to put in some place, and the Helena community has been great to me and my family. It’ll be tough to leave.”
Van Diest made it known that, after taking a year off from coaching, he still had love for coaching college football.
Over the past year, he had four or five different coaching opportunities with many programs reaching out him, but it wasn’t until Mary Athletic Director Dale Lennon called Van Diest that he considered stepping back onto the sidelines.
“I met him a long time ago. We were the finalists for the Montana State head coaching position. He is a great 3-4 defensive coordinator,” Van Diest said of Lennon. “I talked to him last fall to see if any opportunities would ever come up, and this is the best situation from me.”
Mary football moved to NCAA Division II in 2007 and hired Craig Bagnell to be its head football coach after the 2017 season.
Originally from Polson, Montana, Bagnell led the Marauders to just two wins over the last two seasons, but Lennon has showed a commitment to Mary football.
“We are serious about bringing NCAA championship-caliber football to the University of Mary and our hometown area or Bismark and Mandan,” Lennon said. “Mike and Craig have been talking football for over a year, ever since Mike visited campus. Mike has had a lot of coaching success throughout his career, but his energy level is like a young coach and he’s attacking this opportunity like it’s his first coaching gig.”
And while Bagnell can learn from Van Diest’s coaching resume, Van Diest is also eager to learn from his new head coach.
“There is always something to learn,” Van Diest said. “The longer you stay out of the game, the harder it is to get back in. This was the right time.”
Prior to Carroll, Van Diest was an assistant coach at the University of Wyoming, Northwestern University, and the University of Montana.
He also coached against Mary in 2003 and 2004, beating them twice.
Van Diest has six championship rings on his resume and has seen plenty of success, winning 84 percent of his games as a head coach and being inducted into the Carroll College athletics and NAIA Halls of Fame but now he is back to his true love, which is coaching position players.
“Heck, I only have to worry about two positions now,” Van Diest said.
But don’t think it’s his retirement gig. He takes his profession seriously.
“I’m back in the saddle,” Van Diest said with a smile. “I’m not looking to take it easy or ride off into the sunset. I want to get back to coaching like it was my first day at Carroll or at Wyoming.”