The victory was ugly, it occurred on alien turf and it was delayed by three weeks, but Clint Conque was all smiles when he received the hardware Monday.
At the weekly Bearbackers luncheon, Dr. Brad Teague, on behalf of the athletic department, presented the head football coach a plaque commemorating his 100th victory at UCA. The UCA staff had the plaque ready since the Colorado game but the Buffaloes and the UT Martin Skyhawks forced it into temporary storage.
“It’s a humbling number,” said Conque about reaching the triple digits in wins as a head coach.
As with most milestones, this one, achieved during 14 seasons, wasn’t reached without bumps, inclines, twists and detours.
“It also means I’m getting old,” joked Conque, who is wearing glasses for the first time this year.
Some never thought Conque — maybe not even himself — would be around 14 years, which is a long time for coaching regimes nowadays. He came into the Southland Conference as one of the league’s youngest coaches and is now the dean.
He was hired by an interim president (John Smith) to build a competitive NCAA Division II program. Halfway through, while the Bears had developed into a solid program in the Gulf South Conference, the dynamic changed and got more complicated. UCA switched to NCAA Division I Football Chammpionship Subdivision (1-AA at the time) and membership in the Southland Conference.
The Bears hardly missed a competitive beat, making one of the most successful transitions ever from an NCAA Division II team to Division I. They have won two championships, one last season and one that didn’t officially count because of a technicality but they clearly proved themselves as the No. 1 team in the league.
While doing that, his teams have led the league academically, particularly over two straight years with playoff teams.
“Any recognition like this that comes to a head coach comes literally from a cast of thousands,” Conque said.
He then collectively named a few, “I’ve worked at a great place where the administration felt that the development of the student-athlete was important. That’s important to me.
“Over 13-plus years, I’ve had players who were tremendous players with a great work ethic. Any success of a coach comes from having great players.
“I’ve beem blessed over the years to have had dozens of assistant coaches and graduate assistants whose genius, talents and commitment of themselves and their families that have helped build the program and helped make us successful.
“A coach is like a quarterback. He probably gets too much credit when things go well and probably criticism that is not deserved when things don’t go so well. That’s part of it.”
We in the media have always appreciated the way Conque has made himself available and met with us and answered questions with candor, in good times and bad. Things that have characterized him over the years: He’s had a core philosophy but has been willing to change and adapt certain parts of it. He has always been willing to learn. He is not afraid to discipline a star player under the same standards that he would any player. His teams have almost always gotten better as the season progressed.
One hundred was a struggle at times. But it’s been a thrilling and amazing ride.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd).