The question was obvious.
The University of Central Arkansas’ Clint Conque has been speculated, almost yearly, as a potential candidate for several FBS jobs, most recently Arkansas State (which wasn’t going to happen).
So, why did Conque suddenly leave UCA for a Southland Conference rival, Stephen F. Austin, which was 3-9 last season with a 66-31 loss to UCA?
Conque was always careful and wary about the FBS jobs that opened over the years. At age 52, Conque wants to win a national championship, not take a team to a lower-tier bowl game as a landmark achievement.
He’s always felt, at the right place, that he had a better chance of winning a national championship in the FCS than the FBS jobs that might be available.
Why SFA, situated in Nacogdoches, Texas?
Conque had built an ongoing quality program and continued a tradition at UCA, guiding the football program to more immediate success in the transition from NCAA II to Division I that few programs had achieved in similar circumstances.
UCA had the facilities (including a good stadium with a unique field, an indoor practice facility and a training facility. He was solid in Conway.
Except for one thing.
Conque received a nice pay raise (to about $200,000) per year, but I don’t think that was the primary issue. He’s had more dangled in front of him before.
A major sticking point in recent years is that UCA has been on the lower echelon among Southland Conference schools in pay to assistant coaches. Conque has been irritated losing several assistant coaches over the years to conference rivals. He never minded an assistant enhancing his career as a coordinator or going to an FBS school. It gnawed at him to lose a position coach to a similar position to a conference rival and having to yearly replace some of his stop assistants.
He had a knack for bringing in good, young assistant coaches who had young children or were just beginning families. When people asked him the last couple of years about what can be done to enhance the program, his first response was to make life financially better for his assistant coaches.
The UCA administration was sympathetic and tried to do what it could, but the economic situation at the university and the cultural environment made it very difficult and pretty much impossible to fulfill.
He noted one of the major attractions of the SFA situation is the university was able to put together a good package for assistant coaches and a long-term process for continuing that. “The athletic staff, the administration and the board of regents are all on the same page,” he said. “Stephen F. Austin has been successful in the past and has a lot of resources. I’m excited about some things that are in place for assistant coaches.”
SFA has always been one of the FCS institutions that Conque had on a potential short list.
He was a finalist for the head coaching position there after the 2004 season, then withdrew his name to stay at UCA. That was a good thing because the 2005 team was one of the most succesful in the Bears’ Division II run, winning a Gulf South Conference championship and making a postseason experience.
And staying 14 seasons at one institutiion is extraordinary at UCA’s level.
Quickly speculation boiled Saturday about a successor. Auburn assistant Tim Horton, a son of Harold, the second winningest coach in UCA history and whose in-laws live in Conway, was an obvious name. However, putting together a salary package attractive to lure Horton from a high-level BCS team, might be extremely difficult, especially if he might be in line to be offensive coordinator for the Tigers if Rhett Lashlee takes a head coaching job.
Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, has a knack for making good hires and finding the right fits. And he works fast. He knows what he is looking for and works as much by feel as resume, the mark of a good administrator.
It’s a good FCS job that should attract a deep pool of quality candidates, some familiar others not so much.
Conque stayed at UCA 14 years and had several opportunities to go elsewhere.
And this season, leading a team to a 7-5 record and a season-ending victory over two-time NCAA FCS runner-up Sam Houston State in the face of an incredible series of major injuries, may have been the best coaching job by he and his staff.
With the young players who gained experience this season plus the return of those from injuries, the Bears potentially could be a very good team next season.
“UCA will get a good football coach and there will be a great football team there waiting for him to coach,” Conque said.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)