After 14 seasons and 105 victories as football coach at the University of Central Arkansas, the Clint Conque Era came to a sudden and surprising end Saturday.
Conque, who led UCA to conference championships in both NCAA Division II and FCS and guided the program into a highly successful transition to Division I, resigned to take the head coaching position at Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin. The Nacogdoches, Texas, school recently fired coach J.C. Harper after a 3-9 season and a seven-year record of 37-45 and a conference record of 1-6 last season.
"This whole thing took place in about three days; it kind of evolved and it’s emotional," said Conque. "After 14 years, I just feel it’s time for a change and a fresh start. It’s very amicable. There are no smoking guns. I’m leaving behind a tremendously talented group of young men. My goals when I came here was when I left to leave the program in better shape than I found it and win as many games and championships as possible."
UCA, under Conque, won Southland titles in 2008 and 2012 and made two straight NCAA FCS playoff appearances in compiling a 105-59 record. The Bears also won a Gulf South Conference title in NCAA II in 2005. He was a three-time Coach of the Year finalist in FCS. His teams led the Southland in APR (a measurement of graduation rates and academic progress) for three straight years.
"It has been an incredibly reward experience at UCA the last 14 years and it has certainly been an honor and a priviledge to work with so many talented people on campus and so many talented student-athletes over the years," Conque said.
Dr. Brad Teague, University of Central Arkansas athletic director, said he hopes to have a replacement for Conque by Friday.
"I’m already setting up interviews with people I know and people I don’t know," Teague said Saturday. "I’m amazed as the quality of applicants that UCA can attract in all sports. It’s a great city, with a beautiful campus with great academics and great facilities. And we’ve proven you can win here. If we get good applicants and get mobile, I think we can get this (naming a new coach) by Friday. You know me. I work fast and it’s crucial we work fast because of recruiting."
Teague said he is more inclined to look outside the current staff at this time but is open to any applicant. Names that immediately surfaced through the media as potential prospects are Auburn assistant Tim Horton, (a former Conway star and son of former UCA coach Harold Horton, the second-winningest coach in school history), former UCA offensive coordinator Todd Cooley (currently at Delta State) and former Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts, the athletic director at Cabot.
Conque has been given about a five-year contract at SFA worth $200,000 per year. At UCA, his base salary was $135,000, but bonuses and coaching show income drove his total package to about $175,000 to $180,000 per year. Conque said that he has been given a good package and agreement for assistant coaches at SFA and will take some of his current assistants to Nacogdoches, Texas.
Conque said that only 16 coaches in the country have won more games at the same institution on the FCS level.
"He told me that after 14 years, he felt it was time for a change," Teague said. "Not many coaches on any level coach that long at the same institution and I understand that. I just wish he wasn’t going to another conference member.
"... UCA has a longstanding championship tradition, and Clint Conque continued this tradition and led us into our Division I era with great success, and for that we are thankful."
He added, "UCA is and always has been a very strong athletic program, and football is a cornerstone of this strength and has been for many decades. The University of Central Arkansas has quickly become one of the nation’s preeminent Division I FCS programs, and because of that, there will be considerable interest from quality candidates who will not only continue, but build upon this institution’s standard of success both in academics and athletic achievements. I can assure our current student-athletes and fans that we will continue the UCA way of winning on and off the field."
"Dr. Teague and President (Tom) Courtway have been incredible to work with," Conque said. "They are talented, visionary leaders and to have the opportunity to work with them and their staff has been rewarding.
"When you’ve been at a place a long time, it’s emotional to leave. I care a lot about the student-athletes and staff I’m leaving behind at UCA. I’m leaving a number of tremendously talented young men who have had success at a high level."
Two of Conque’s three sons, Zach and Benton, now live in Texas. Zach is a quarterback for Texas-San Antonio and Benton, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, is stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
"I gratified for the commitment the leadership at SFA has made," Conque said. "I’m energized by their long-term commitment. I see this as a fresh start for me on so many levels, professional and personal.
"There are huge challenges ahead at SFA but I’ve always been one to embrace challenges. I really believe SFA can be one of the premier jobs in the country. And sometimes, you’ve got to be willing to get out of your comfort zone.
"This profession is competitive and there are changes. But relationships last a lifetime. And I’ve built relationships at UCA that will always endure."