Bruised by a 5-7 season that ended with five straight losses, University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque said the repair process has begun.
He spent much of Sunday reflecting on the season in the wake of Saturday’s 17-16 loss to the University of North Dakota at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
"We’re gonna move forward. I take responsibility for this season and the mistakes that were made, and I’m committed to fixing them," Conque said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon. "I’m evaluating every aspect of what we have to do and what we need to do to get it right ... I tell our players all the time that it’s how you respond to it, and we’re gonna respond the right way."
The Bears had 96 penalties in 12 games and had major breakdowns in every phase this season.
"Our discipline has got to get better," he said. "Discipline starts in the offseason with those 6 a.m. workouts. It starts in the weight room when no one is around and the stadium is empty. It’s putting a renewed sense of urgency about discipline to the younger players."
He said the UCA staff redshirted 14 scholarship players this season, and the Bears are expected to return about 42 lettermen next season, nine of whom are starters.
"We’ll be a younger team, but I’m looking forward to molding and shaping these younger players," he said.
He said the UCA staff plans to sign 20 to 22 new players next year, including three mid-year transfers. One of those will be offensive lineman Tyler Stauch of Vilonia, who will join the team for the second semester after recovering from an injury. Conque said the staff plans to sign up to six transfers, including possibly a transfer quarterback and a transfer wide receiver.
"I don’t want to go too heavy on transfers," he said.
He said the recruiting will be broad-based, encompassing every position, including a combination punter/placekicker. He said the UCA will sign at least four wide receivers.
The Bears have two quarterbacks who saw very limited action this season, Trae Cook and Nathan Dick, plus a promising redshirt freshman in Wynrick Smothers.
"It is my responsibility to make sure that at every position we have competition, so through competition, we can get the best player at every position," Conque said.
He noted that he heard one NFL coach said that 90 percent of pro games are decided by a touchdown or less. The Bears lost seven games by a total of 23 points. All seven of their losses were by five points or fewer.
"We made some of the same mistakes last year and years past," Conque said. "We made some of the same mistakes we’re making now — as a coaching staff, as players and we were able to overcome it. What happens is when you are more evenly matched, those mistakes become magnified. I take responsibility for it all. I’m committed to doing it better and getting it right. It’s too early to tell you about wins and losses next year, but I can tell you we will play with a more sense of urgency, a greater sense of discipline and score a couple more touchdowns in the red zone."
He said the UCA coaching staff has already met to evaluate recruiting and decide the direction they need to go.
"It’s pretty fresh right now and it’s hard to say this (a 5-7 season) is just a bump in the road, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a sand pebble in the hour glass," Conque said. "We’re committed to doing it better and doing it right. We’ll get through this."
RESPONDING TO RUMORS: Conque said Monday he has not spoken to the FBI and does not consider himself part of the bureau’s investigation at UCA.
FBI agents have talked to various officials at UCA about unspecified matters. It is speculated that part of the investigation relates to the Lu Hardin administration converting private funds to public funds in order to pay sponsorship for Conque’s television show, which he does during the football season as part of his contract.
"For the record, I am contracted to do certain services for the university," Conque said. "When you fulfill those services, you are compensated for those services. I thought interim president (Tom) Courtway at the time probably said it the best way when he said that when you go to the feed store to buy a sack of soybeans, you don’t know which field they came out of. You just know you got a sack of soybeans.
"For the record, I have no idea about any of that (where the payment for contracted services) came from and I’m not being investigated --— as of today anyway — by the FBI."