(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a preseason interview with UCA football coach Clint Conque as he discusses a variety of issues related to the program. This first appeared on ucasports.com)
Q. The Bears have had a pretty consistent presence in the national polls, and were one of the last 16 teams standing last season. In the second round of the playoffs, we were able to get a first-hand look at one of the elite FCS programs in the Montana Grizzlies. What do you see it taking for UCA to go from a Top 15/Top 20-type program to a consistent Top 5/Top 10-level program like you saw in Missoula?
A. As coaches, we are always searching for that perfect formula to elevate all aspects of our football program. There is no question we have made unprecedented strides in Division I and in the SLC. The ability to attract experienced, bright and qualified assistants is an absolute must to maintain a top program. Finances drive everything in college football. Increased support is vital in all aspects of our program. Make no mistake, there is an arms race at the FCS level of college football. Secondly, we must not lose sight that college football is a players’ game. We must always strive to enhance the resources available to them. Talent, leadership and experience are certainly the key components for the program to take the next step to put UCA among the elite. Many of these components are in place, but we must continue to push the envelope. Continued community, alumni and student ownership in the university is essential.
Q. You recently hired two new coaches in Billy Best and Dave Wheeler. During your time here, you’ve had to make quite a few hires as many members of your staff have parlayed their time at UCA into successful careers around the country. What does that mean to you and for this program? And what goes into determining what kind of coach will fit onto your staff?
A. These men bring tremendous talents and experience that will enhance our staff. I’ve always felt a strong obligation to help our assistants move upward in this profession. As a 17-year assistant, I can clearly relate to our staff and their goals. I smile and take great pride in knowing we have turned out former assistants who are now head coaches, FBS coordinators, FBS assistants and others that moved into full-time positions. UCA football, Conway and our university allows the program to be attractive for current and former staff members. I want to hire men that are motivated to be the best and be in demand for upward growth.
Q. Your thoughts on what effect conference realignment and the changing landscape of college football will have on UCA, the Southland Conference, and FCS football?
A. College football is entering a very critical time. This ever-changing landscape has prompted conference commissioners, school presidents, and AD’s to have a broader and forward vision. This movement is far from complete.I have great confidence that president (Tom) Courtway, Dr. (Brad) Teague and commissioner (Tom) Burnett are on-point. These are fluid times. It is my hope that the SLC will strongly consider expansion for qualified football playing institutions, while maintaining our committed membership. I am certain UCA will be proactive during this time of constant change.
Q. When the Bears’ 2012 season kicks off, it’ll be in Oxford, Miss. taking on the Ole Miss Rebels. Does opening with such a high-profile opponent add any extra sense of excitement or motivation for the staff and team, or is it no different than any other season opener?
A. We have come a long way! It will be electric for our players and staff to represent our university at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in front of 65,000 people. e have a tremendous respect for Ole Miss and the Southeastern Conference. This will without question be the greatest challenge in the history of our program, but we have a wonderful opportunity to showcase our team in this game. Our preparation will not change. Certainly, we are aware of the environment we will encounter in Oxford. In 2011, we faced a similar environment in Montana. Our players are excited about the challenge and are anxious to start camp. It is my hope that several thousand fans from the Bear Nation will show up in purple to support this team. Those that attend will have an opportunity to experience "The Grove" and the best tailgating atmosphere in college football.
Q. In recruiting, during the talent evaluation process, how do you weigh measurables (height, weight, 40 time, bench press, etc.) against making good football plays? Is it better to take a chance on a good player who might be undersized, and hope he gets faster and stronger, or on a guy who is a physical specimen but may not be fundamentally sound, and hope he can be coached up?
A. Certainly, we as coaches look at the measurables. Length, size and speed are tangible elements that we evaluate. As coaches, we must also look at academic potential, as well as future physical potential. We have a set profile for each position, but will not ignore players that are productive and have the "it" factor. Coach (strength and conditioning coach Henry) Briscoe and our staff have taken great pride in the players’ development aspect of our program. In order for our program to continue to be a national contender, future player evaluation in recruiting is essential.