With Budgets Tight, Football Coaches Eye English Departments

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by Con Chapman
Freelance Writer

KALISPELL, Montana. Joe Diggs, head football coach at Western Montana University, is regularly mentioned when another school wants to turn its team around, and he doesn’t mind the attention. “I love Mountain Goat football,” he says, “but I’d love to coach a BCS team someday.”

Last year Diggs led the Goats to 7-5 record and a come-from-behind win over Middle Kentucky in the Weed Wacker Bowl, a victory he thought would mean a raise and a facilities upgrade to attract recruits. “Two of our fans who had a little too much to drink sprained their ankles on the same play,” he recalls, “and Weed Wacker sent out a backhoe for each of them.”

Diggs contrasts that with the primitive vehicle he must use. “They gave one of the ag students a scholarship if he brought his vegetable cart to school with him,” Diggs says, shaking his head. “Sometimes there’s no room for a cornerback if he’s got a load of potatoes.”

Like many ambitious college coaches, Diggs is looking hard at the budgets of other departments, trying to find areas to economize in order to cover his $400,000 salary and other items he considers “essential.” “I tell our alumni, the problem is simple–we don’t pay our players enough,” he says ruefully. Diggs’ game plan? Attack the weakest spot in the arts and sciences line. “That’s 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 department chair. “There’s a lot of duplication,” Diggs says. “I went to the book store and somebody named Shakespeare is assigned in six courses,” he notes with a laugh. “Use man-to-man to cover the guy.”

English department members are upset by Diggs’ scrutiny, saying they follow standards set by the Modern Language Association, the leading professional organization for English instructors. “Like Coach Diggs, we need 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 teaching Middle English,” he says angrily. “Do I get a separate coach for middle linebackers?”

Diggs says he holds no grudge against the language of Milton, and is only trying to make Western Montana a stronger institution. “I want to have an English department,” he intones solemnly, “that our football team can be proud of.”