(EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview with University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque first appeared on ucasports.com. The 13th year UCA coach covers a variety of topics. The second installment of this interview will be published in Monday’s editions).
Q. Last year the Bears put together a highly successful season, winning eight straight games (seven to close out the regular season, and then getting the program’s first Division I playoff appearance and victory). Your team was 5-0 at First Security Field at Estes Stadium. When you reflect back on the success of 2011, what does that do for you heading into 2012?
A. Opening the 2011 season at home on the "stripes" in front of a record crowd was fantastic. To finish undefeated (at home) again, playing against a grueling schedule was a tremendous achievement. Having this type of success at Estes Stadium was the springboard to our team success. We embark on the 2012 schedule with a great deal of confidence. Our success at home the last eight or nine years has allowed the program to gain that confidence and momentum. We have tremendous fans and support groups. We really need everyone to continue to take ownership in our team and engage this relatively young group in 2012.
Q. The program has had quite a bit of success since joining the Southland Conference — winning a championship in 2008, the playoffs last year, and in both years went undefeated at home (the only Southland team to go undefeated at home in two seasons since we joined the league). Looking back on the first five full seasons of Southland play, how do you feel about the body of work?
A. I cannot bestow enough praise about the level of commitment demonstrated by our coaches, players and staff. Coming off a conference championship and 11-win season in 2005, we faced many unknowns as we moved into Division I and SLC. I can tell you the first four years in transition was a difficult time. The biggest obstacle was our inability to qualify for the national playoffs, but we persevered. We have averaged nearly eight wins a season, won a SLC title and qualified for the playoffs last year. We maintained throughout this move to Division I a consistent message of preparation and expectation to win. The players elevated their academics, work ethic and overall investment and ownership in UCA Football. There is little doubt we are ahead of the curve, but still have much work to do. So, yes, I’m pleased with our body of work, but not satisfied.
Q. Another area in which the football program has been highly successful has been in terms of the Academic Progress Rate (APR). The Bears had the highest score in the Southland Conference and in Arkansas for the second year in a row, posting a score of 951 after last year’s 942. Can you speak to the significance of this accomplishment, and how you’ve gotten there?
Q. The academic success of the football program may be the most significant and impressive accomplishment to date. I am very proud of our players. The administration, players, coaches and staff recognize how important the benchmarks for academic success would be and the potentially devastating consequences established by the NCAA. The APR factors eligibility, retention and graduation into their formula. To be the best in the SLC and in Arkansas, sends a strong message of our commitment to education. Our plan is solid. Obviously, the recruiting process and evaluation is critical. We are looking for student-athletes. It is a team effort. We have maintained wonderful support from throughout the campus community and plan to have similar future successes in the classroom.
Q. You’re entering your 13th season here at Central Arkansas, but in a way. you’ve almost coached three different programs. You took over a Division II program, watched it become a Division I transitional program, and then grow into a full-fledged member of the Division I Championship Subdivision. What has the view of the program’s evolution been like from the head coach’s office, from the first day you walked through the door up through today?
A. I have seen many changes in 13 years. It certainly has been exciting, yet challenging. We have been fortunate to have experienced a great deal of success over the last 13 years, but we have consistently maintained a top/down commitment. The Board of Trustees, the president and the director of athletics have given my staff and me the tools we need to win. I have seen a total facility overhaul of Estes Stadium, the construction of the Pepsi Indoor complex, the new skyboxes and a state of the art strength complex. In addition, I have witnessed a cultural change as it relates to game-day atmosphere. A UCA football game has become an event. But even with all the changes, enhancements and competitive movement, it still is about working with young people and blocking and tackling.
Q. How about your own evolution as a coach? In what ways do you approach things differently now than you did when you first got to Conway?
A. Good question. At 51, I am extremely driven and motivated to be successful. That hasn’t changed in my 30-year coaching career. I find myself to be more patient in some areas and get just as impatient with other facets of the job. I feel today I place a greater emphasis on relationships and enjoy each and every conversation with our current and former players. But, the fundamental element that drives me on a daily basis is to compete for and win championships. I am of a strong conviction that we can win a FCS Division I national championship here at UCA. We were in the hunt last season. That success continues to motivate me and our staff. Our focus is continuing to be an elite program in the SLC and on the national stage.