HELENA — There were plenty of smiles going around during Carroll College’s homecoming on Saturday.
The Saints football team came away with a 54-26 win against Montana State Northern.
Alumni gathered and reconnected after decades of not seeing one another.
But some of the biggest smiles came that night when the athletic department celebrated Mike Van Diest.
Van Diest accumulated 203 wins, 14 conference championships and six national championships.
His resume will never be replicated.
“I’ve been so blessed to coach here for 20 years,” Van Diest said in front of a few hundred people inside the PE Center.
Van Diest emotionally announced his retirement last November, a few days following the season’s end.
He simply wanted to spend more time with his family.
He wanted to watch his youngest son, Clay, play hockey during his senior year.
“People ask me, ‘Why you didn’t retire when (Clay) was a junior?’” Van Diest said. “It was because of my players. Selfishly, I wanted to be around them.”
That was not being selfish. That was showing that he loved his players, who he also considered family.
So how do you even start to show appreciation for that?
Carroll put on a beautiful celebration for Van Diest, where he was honored and inducted into their athletics hall of fame.
But that’s not enough.
His name should be etched in Carroll College.
And there is only one place to put it.
Every Saturday home game, the Saints should walk through the west gate and then run onto “Van Diest Field.”
Just listen to some of the accomplishments Van Diest shared during the celebration.
His 203 wins as a coach are the most in NAIA history, his 39 NAIA playoff wins are the most in NAIA history, from 2002-2011 his teams finished a combined 132-10 and from 2007 to 2010 he was 54-2 and 33-1 at Nelson Stadium.
Carroll Athletic Director Charlie Gross praised Mike Van Diest for creating a model for the rest of the athletic department to follow.
But when asked if there were plans for further recognition, such as naming the field after the hall of fame coach, Gross only said time will tell.
“What Coach Van Diest did at Carroll and the accomplishments both as an overall team and individual athletes, one could see something being named after him down the road,” Gross said. “It would be very deserving.”
College coaches Bear Bryant and LaVell Edwards have marched teams into stadiums with their names already on them.
Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyewski coaches in front of a logo that says “Coach K Court” in honor of his 500th win.
It is time for the athletic department to get the ball rolling on renaming the field to honor Van Diest and all of his accomplishments.
For all Van Diest did for the school, the least it can do is say, “Welcome to Van Diest Field at Nelson Stadium.”