KALISPELL, Montana. Joe Ray Diggs, head coach of the Western Montana State University Mountain Goats, is regularly mentioned when a school with aspirations on cracking college football’s top rankings is looking for someone to turn its team around. For his part, he makes no secret of his aspirations. “I love Mountain Goat football,” he says, “but I’d love to get a chance to coach a BCS team on New Year’s Day.”
Last year Diggs led the Goats to 7-5 record and a come-from-behind win over Middle Kentucky State in the Craftsman Weed Wacker Bowl, a victory that he thought would result in a raise and an upgrade in the facilities he needs to attract top recruits. “Two of our fans who had a little too much to drink sprained their ankles on the same play,” he recalls, “and the Weed Wacker people sent out a separate motorized cart for each of them.”
Diggs contrasts that type of top-quality service with the primitive vehicle he must make do with for home games. “They gave one of the ag students a scholarship on the condition that he bring his vegetable cart to school with him,” Diggs says, shaking his head. “Sometimes there’s no room for a middle linebacker if he’s got a load of potatoes on there.”
Like a number of other up-and-coming college football coaches, Diggs is taking a hard look at the budgets of other departments at his school, trying to find areas where they can cut back in order to cover his $400,000 salary, plus the other items he considers “essential” if Mountain Goat football is to succeed. “I tell our alumni, the problem is simple–we don’t pay our players enough.”
Diggs’ game plan? To attack the weakest spot in the arts and sciences line. “That would be the English Department,” he says with a mischievous smile.
Western Montana has a ten-member English department, with salaries ranging from $34,000 for an assistant professor to $70,000 for the chairman of the department. “There’s a lot of duplication there,” Diggs says. “I went to the book store and somebody named Shakespeare is assigned reading in six courses,” he notes with a laugh. “I mean, hello? Use single coverage on the guy.”
English department members are understandably upset by the attention Diggs’ scrutiny has brought them, saying they are only following standards set by the Modern Language Association, the leading professional organization for English instructors. “Just like Coach Diggs, we need to have qualified personnel at every position from Beowulf to the present,” says professor Ewell Lee, a specialist in Victorian novelists. Checking the department roster, Diggs disagrees. “They’ve got one guy who specializes in Middle English,” he says, growing angry. “Do I get a separate coach for middle linebackers?”
Diggs says he holds no grudge against the language of Milton and Hemingway, and is only trying to make Western Montana a stronger institution. “I want to have an English department,” he says with a serious expression, “that our football team can be proud of.”