Shane Van Diest logs anywhere between 12-14 hours at his job most days, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The 25-year-old son of Carroll coach Mike Van Diest is in his first year as a graduate assistant football coach at the University of South Dakota, an FCS program located in Vermillion, S.D. The former Saints safety/linebacker is enjoying his position working with the secondary at USD, where he works alongside defensive coordinator Jason Petrino — also a Carroll alum — and for head coach Joe Glenn, who was an assistant at the University of Montana with Mike Van Diest in the 1980s.
“Everyone warns you about the life of a graduate assistant coach, but I’m having a blast,” Shane said, adding that he believes being a younger coach has helped his players better relate to him. “I think it’s not as much of a culture shock to me as it is to a lot of first-year coaches in terms of the dedication that’s required.”
Growing up around the game with a father in the coaching business, Shane said he watched his dad successfully balance the long hours, family time and his faith. As he’s considering a potential future in the coaching profession, Shane said it’s a model he hopes to emulate.
“Being a younger, single guy I don’t have a family to balance right now,” said Shane, who spends late hours breaking down film as part of his GA duties. “Seeing the guys on the Carroll staff and how they balance families, hobbies and coaching life, I get that it’s important to keep all those things in the right order.”
A typical day for Shane starts between 7 and 8 a.m. In addition to his work coaching the safeties, he also runs the offensive scout team that meets three days a week at 7 a.m. to watch film.
“It ends up being about a 12-hour day,” said Shane, adding that he opted not to take credits this fall while coaching. “When people ask me if this is what I want to do the rest of my life, my answer is ‘this year is my test run at it.’ I wanted to see what it’s like before making that decision, but it’s definitely something I want to keep pursuing.
“Coach Glenn keeps joking that I better not leave him after this year, but I told him I’ll stay for the two to three years I promised.”
Shane took graduate school classes in Colorado last year while trying to figure out his next step. He was applying to medical school and “bouncing around 100 different ideas” like so many people just out of college tend to do. But then he thought back to the most fun he ever had at a job.
“It was that year I coached at Helena High,” he said. “I absolutely loved it.”
Shane had worked with the Bengals’ secondary in 2010 after graduating from Carroll, assisting HHS defensive coordinator Scott Evans. He was thankful for the coaching opportunity at his alma mater, and had a blast taking the team to the state AA championship. The Bengals finished runners-up, their only two losses that year coming to Bozeman.
“I decided maybe I’d be better suited to coaching at the college level and really wanted to give that a shot,” Shane said.
When thinking of a coach he knew and respected who might be able to point in him the right direction, Jason Petrino came to mind. Petrino, a Kalispell native, was a Carroll captain as a senior in 1999 and coached the defensive backs from 2000-02 after graduation. Shane called Petrino on a whim and asked for phone numbers of people in the business and any job opportunities he might know of.
“He pointed me to some other schools and got me set up with phone interviews,” Shane said. “In the midst of the whole process, a graduate assistant at USD took another job.”
Things fell into place from there. Petrino and Glenn discussed bringing Shane on staff and offered him the job. Shane accepted.
“I pulled all the med school applications,” he said.
The Coyotes are off to a 1-4 start to the season, which began in Missoula with a 35-24 loss to Montana that was closer than the final score indicated. Despite the team’s record, Shane said he can’t think of a better place to spend his first collegiate coaching job than learning from great football minds like Petrino and Glenn.
“Those are two guys that really know football and are good men to be around,” he said. “In this business a lot of guys know their X’s and O’s, but I’m really grateful to be around two guys who not only know the game of football but are great examples of men.”
While he was prepared for the long hours, the job hasn’t been without surprises.
“All the little behind the scenes things you didn’t notice as players,” Shane said, when asked what has come as the biggest shock. “You spend an inordinate amount of time watching film and putting in game plans; I don’t think we realized or appreciated our coaches as much as we should have.”
As a player at Carroll, Shane finished his career with 92 tackles. He had 64 – fifth on the team – his senior year after moving to linebacker. He said the thing that stands out the most to him from his playing days is just the relationships he built while playing football. He’s still in touch with a number of his former teammates and is slowly getting to know the 90-some young men who play for South Dakota. As a late addition to the Coyotes coaching staff, Shane didn’t move to Vermillion until July.
When asked about his coaching style, Shane said he takes bits and pieces from all of the coaches he’s been around, from his dad to Evans to Petrino.
“I had a good talk with Scott Evans the other night,” he said. “I didn’t realize at the time how much I learned from him about coaching and defensive football. I took a lot from him in the mental preparation part of the game, as far as how well you need to know your opponents.”
Like he was while coaching at Helena, Shane is up in the box at South Dakota.
“It’s so helpful for young coaches to see things from up there,” Mike Van Diest said. “It’s important to see the game as it’s being played, and you have to focus because the guys on headsets want the input.”
Both Mike and wife Heidi were in Vermillion for “Dakota Days” – USD’s version of homecoming – this weekend during Carroll’s bye week. It meant a lot to Shane to have his parents in the stands showing their support.
“I think he’s doing a great job, and that’s coming from Joe Glenn and Jason Petrino,” Mike Van Diest said. “I don’t think they’re blowing smoke; I think Shane’s doing an honest day’s work. When I talk to him he’s working 14-hour days and loving it.”
Mike Van Diest said he would love it if one day father and son could coach together on the same sideline somewhere – Shane as the head coach, of course, and Mike as his defensive coordinator. Van Diest said Shane’s understanding of the game and his temperament will carry him far, and said he “saw this coming” for a couple of years, even if other relatives were taken aback by his decision.
“He wants to be a coach,” Van Diest said. “He’s got it in his blood.”