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Stephen F. Austin Football

Clint Conque, once a prolific offensive coordinator, returning to roots

March 21, 2018
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For decades, sport has provided the ultimate platform for visionaries. People who can do the same thing as everyone else, but differently, often do it better. That was exactly what a group of coaches in Ruston, Louisiana were aiming for in the late 1990s.

Although many still don't realize it, that group helped shape the future of offense in American football even two decades later.

They were a collection of up-and-comers—a quarterbacks coach from Boston College who had spent a single season coordinating offenses for Georgia Tech, the son of a well-known figure in the sport trying to forge his own identity, and a collection of young assistants.

It was an odd mix, but not really, because Gary Crowton—the mastermind of it all—along with assistants Jack Bicknell Jr., Clint Conque and Pete Carmichael Jr. together had a versatile understanding of the game like few could individually. Conque, after all, had spent some of the most formative years of his career coaching defense.

At every level of the sport today—high school, college and the NFL—evidence of that Louisiana Tech offense in the late 90s isn't hiding far below the surface. The up-tempo, empty back formations, focused heavily on screens and blocking after-catch running lanes has become a staple of many prolific attacks in the modern era. Some coaches—even household names like Chip Kelly—became superstars by adapting those concepts.

But back in the 1990s, it was essentially unheard of. That's why coaching staffs from major college programs would descend on Ruston in the offseason to learn everything they could about how the Bulldogs were shredding defenses so effortlessly.

In 1999, Crowton left his position as head coach at Louisiana Tech to introduce his offense to the NFL as the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Bicknell replaced him and immediately named Conque as his offensive coordinator.

"Our bubble screen, our hit screen, our tunnel screen — there just weren't a lot of people that were doing that then and doing it with tempo out of no back formations," says Conque. "I was just a pawn in that deal, so I was blessed to be around some pretty smart people and learn an awful lot."

Bicknell remembers it differently.

"He understood offense inside and out," Bicknell says of Conque, recalling that 1999 season. "That was big because I was focused more on the offensive line and the protection and run game and he really made that passing game work."

That year, LA Tech quarterback Tim Rattay threw for just shy of four thousand yards, his team leading all of college football in passing while posting the second-highest number in total offense.

Crowton would find various levels of success in future gigs with the Bears and as head coach at Bringham Young. Later, his two seasons at Oregon helped shape the now-famous offense that Kelly mastered there. After a largely disappointing stint at LSU and a few stops in between, Crowton had a brief reunion with Conque at Stephen F. Austin but—thanks to a series of catastrophic injuries in his couple years there—never quite found the same level of production that he had in prior stops.

Conque, who used his contributions to that 1999 Louisiana Tech team to catapult his career into a long-term gig as the head coach at Central Arkansas and now SFA, knows offenses—even the most visionary kinds—have to evolve, too.

"I still think that all the window dressing is cute and fun," he says. "You have to do some of that, but then defenses start to figure it out. And then, you've got to kind of go back and realize it's still about being physical and blocking and tackling and doing all those things."

Bicknell, now coaching the offensive line at the University of Mississippi, concurs. "I remember running those little tunnel screens, and we just ripped people with them," he recalls. "They just didn't have a lot of great answers for it back then. Over time, people catch up to it, and now it's just harder to run those things."

But the Conque that Bicknell remembers has no issue adapting.

"He was a great guy to work with," he says. "He was very bright and very innovative. Very organized."

Once a prodigy of Crowton, Conque has made a full circle as he enters his fifth year at the helm of Stephen F. Austin. His former mentor has moved on and the Lumberjacks are still struggling to escape middling-status in the Southland Conference—so he's returning to the same roots that got him here, and taking over the offense.

The scheme has evolved. The entire sport has partially because of it. But Conque, once a star offensive coordinator in Ruston, is hoping for similar results as he takes on double-duty at Stephen F. Austin.

The key is—and always has been to Conque—fundamentals. "Being physical and blocking and tackling," he says again and again.

Even if the end result looks different in 2018 than it did in 1999, Conque's tenure under Bickwell and Crowton as a running backs coach, receivers coach, special teams coordinator, and ultimately, offensive coordinator, remains a valuable part of the experience he'll tap into as he outlines the vision for SFA this spring.

He was a key part of a group on the cutting edge back then, and Conque, folks in Nacogdoches hope, still has some of that offensive wizardry left, 19 years later.

Clint Conque, once a prolific offensive coordinator, returning to roots

edstile
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Let's hope he can rekindle the offensive spark from earlier in his career, with maybe a few new wrinkles to throw at defenses.
TallTexan
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Dang it Isaac, now I'm excited for football season. I'm supposed to be tempering my expectations with some basketball recruiting news, AD search, etc.

If I feel let down in September because we're getting the doors blasted off of us again, I'm blaming you.
TallTexan
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edstile said:

Let's hope he can rekindle the offensive spark from earlier in his career, with maybe a few new wrinkles to throw at defenses.
Judging by the pictures, I'd say he's got a few new wrinkles since 99.
nacluth
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Another solid article Isaac. Way to go to the history vault to get some good info. It's making sense why we've seen a million screens the last couple of years. Here's hoping for more offensive success.
Jacks4460
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Nice job again Isaac... I hope Coach gets it together this year... I am rooting for him and the team..
HitSomeBody
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Great article Isaac.

I hope he brings back the fundamental "physical" blocking and tackling mentality to the team. My son's high school coach... coached with Conque in Louisiana. He took the "physical" to heart. He said he learned it from Conque and for four years I watched the team play in your face, physical, hit somebody, football. The fans even had t-shirts made with Hit Somebody on the front we wore to games. All the team did was run the football by blocking and some bone crushing hits. I wish my son's high school coach would have picked up on the tempo and passing schemes. We never saw that in a game. What we did see was guys knocking other players off their feet.

I asked my son why they did not pass the ball, he told me its because their stats they paid attention too after every game was who had the most knock out hits. The players did not seem to care about the score they wanted the trophy for most dominated hitter on the team. When I asked the head coach about the stat, he told me he learned it from Conque when he started coaching in Louisiana. At the time, I did not know Conque at all. Now, I do and I am hopeful to see how he challenges the offense.

My son will probably be looking for his knock out hit count after the games because that what he is used too for four years. Maybe, it will happen and the offense will take pride in their blocking and us fans can enjoy the benefits of points on the board.
Gazette1
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I'm still waiting for those positive results.
OldSchool
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I love the Lumberjacks but cant understand why a head coach at any school wait so long when your team ship seems to sinking like a rock to all of sudden decide he can revive the offense at this late date on his watch.
Sorry I'm old-school when it comes to building a team but the sudden influx of out of state and JUCO players is just another sign of desperation in trying up right the ship before it slips down further if that is possible.

Not sure if there are people who grade the recruiting class for 2018 but would like to see how it compares to the top tier football teams in the conference. Good recruiting for the long haul is what builds great programs. Not sure we have that in place right now with present staff.
Jacks4460
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If you look at Prison Tech and their roster the have many JUCO/Transfer players... Coach did great going out and getting JUCO players... We need kids that are ready to play now... SFA is just in their 2nd year of having a Football Operations/Recruiting Cord. For some reason the past 2 years all recruiting started with Crowton. Thats where it looks like Coach Clint messed up.. This group of coaches he has now are some hard workers and I hope things go well for the team this year so that they can stay...
SFA_03
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Jacks4460 said:

If you look at Prison Tech and their roster the have many JUCO/Transfer players... Coach did great going out and getting JUCO players... We need kids that are ready to play now... SFA is just in their 2nd year of having a Football Operations/Recruiting Cord. For some reason the past 2 years all recruiting started with Crowton. Thats where it looks like Coach Clint messed up.. This group of coaches he has now are some hard workers and I hope things go well for the team this year so that they can stay...
That's not to say Gary Crowton isn't a good coach. The man coached NFL offenses and basically was a part of creating one of the most electrifying offenses in college football. Coach Crowton looked like an amazing hire on paper. His offense at Southern Utah would've been the perfect offense(power running, play action deep passes, and zone reads) for Zach Conque to run because of his arm strength and athletic ability. I'm very confused why we never ran anything similar to what he did literally everywhere else here. Could be he was looking to retire.
FootballTex
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SFA_03 said:

Jacks4460 said:

If you look at Prison Tech and their roster the have many JUCO/Transfer players... Coach did great going out and getting JUCO players... We need kids that are ready to play now... SFA is just in their 2nd year of having a Football Operations/Recruiting Cord. For some reason the past 2 years all recruiting started with Crowton. Thats where it looks like Coach Clint messed up.. This group of coaches he has now are some hard workers and I hope things go well for the team this year so that they can stay...
That's not to say Gary Crowton isn't a good coach. The man coached NFL offenses and basically was a part of creating one of the most electrifying offenses in college football. Coach Crowton looked like an amazing hire on paper. His offense at Southern Utah would've been the perfect offense(power running, play action deep passes, and zone reads) for Zach Conque to run because of his arm strength and athletic ability. I'm very confused why we never ran anything similar to what he did literally everywhere else here. Could be he was looking to retire.
I remember the first time that I saw Zach Conque play with Crowton as the OC. I was very excited about the upcoming season. Big QB, Big Arm and an OC with an NFL Pedigree.

Then I saw him/them play. First impression - How can a QB with this much hype be so incredibly inaccurate throwing the football? Huge Arm but his misses were not small. He was missing by a mile and on very easy throws. It was later reported that he had a shoulder injury and this was the cause but at the end of the day he could not effectively throw the ball.

Then I looked at the RB's that season. No power backs really to speak of. The Easley kid was definitely a player but not a power RB. They needed to throw the ball in order to open up the run game. I thought Easley played remarkably well that year despite the one dimensional form of offense that evolved that season.

So Crowton had a power back offense that needed a big armed QB.

He had neither. Pretty easy to see why he never replicated his system at SFA.

He inherited that first team. He did not recruit them.

His first recruiting class was IMO very strong (the year after Z Congue). He just did not stay around long enough to get the right players developed into his system.

Clint did not have enough time to let it grow as this is a win or be fired season.

It is pretty easy to blame it all of the guy that is no longer around but I think this line of discussion is pretty unfair and misaligned.
TallTexan
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FootballTex said:


I remember the first time that I saw Zach Conque play with Crowton as the OC. I was very excited about the upcoming season. Big QB, Big Arm and an OC with an NFL Pedigree.

Then I saw him/them play. First impression - How can a QB with this much hype be so incredibly inaccurate throwing the football? Huge Arm but his misses were not small. He was missing by a mile and on very easy throws. It was later reported that he had a shoulder injury and this was the cause but at the end of the day he could not effectively throw the ball.

Then I looked at the RB's that season. No power backs really to speak of. The Easley kid was definitely a player but not a power RB. They needed to throw the ball in order to open up the run game. I thought Easley played remarkably well that year despite the one dimensional form of offense that evolved that season.

So Crowton had a power back offense that needed a big armed QB.

He had neither. Pretty easy to see why he never replicated his system at SFA.

He inherited that first team. He did not recruit them.

His first recruiting class was IMO very strong (the year after Z Congue). He just did not stay around long enough to get the right players developed into his system.

Clint did not have enough time to let it grow as this is a win or be fired season.

It is pretty easy to blame it all of the guy that is no longer around but I think this line of discussion is pretty unfair and misaligned.
I'll have to take your word for it, mostly because I'm amazed that you were able to watch SFA football with your eyes open. I always end up covering my face with my hands.
edstile
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FootballTex said:





Clint did not have enough time to let it grow as this is a win or be fired season.

It is pretty easy to blame it all of the guy that is no longer around but I think this line of discussion is pretty unfair and misaligned.

Great commentary and great points, FT. We'll see how it all plays out over the next eight months or so.
Jacks4460
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I think Crowton loss the desire from the players he needed to be executing for him.. Remember someone in a thread came on and said players requested a change... If our line is a little better than average and we get the Ogelsby kid on campus then watch out...
OldSchool
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The only person who can accept blame for non recruiting is the head coach. He makes all the decisions on what positions are on his staff. Any coach that doesn't put recruiting at the top of his list ends up exactly where the Jacks are now at the bottom of conference.
He had his shot and felt other things were more important that I wont even mention and now our program is in disarray.

First order of business for new AD is begin search for new FB coach and staff who knows and understands
Texas recruiting.

SFAJack_76
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OldSchool said:

The only person who can accept blame for non recruiting is the head coach. He makes all the decisions on what positions are on his staff. Any coach that doesn't put recruiting at the top of his list ends up exactly where the Jacks are now at the bottom of conference.
He had his shot and felt other things were more important that I wont even mention and now our program is in disarray.

First order of business for new AD is begin search for new FB coach and staff who knows and understands
Texas recruiting.


Recruiting provides the opportunity to have success or not. Player development, s&c, coaching, scheme, play calling, etc play as much a role as recruiting. In many instances, maybe more. TCU, for example, consistently has lower rated classes than its peers, but still wins on a regular basis. No doubt, recruiting has been a shortfall, but that is not the only issue leading to poor results. Absolutely, the head coach takes responsibility for all the above.

Not cool to tease that Conque "felt other things were more important" and not provide details.

As I and others have discussed, ad nauseum, the new AD choice is critical to the athletic programs at SFA. No search for a new head football coach will start in earnest for at least five months. There are other, more immediate priorities such as, what do we do with the baseball program. If by the end of October, football is not meaningfully improved, then the search is on.

If the new AD is an internal promotion, the message is clear that the leaders are very comfortable with the status quo.


BigJack85
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I think people said the same sort of "status quo" things about Robert Hill .... I for one was skeptical about Robert Hill. It all comes down to fund raising. With the giving coffers being thin we'll have to get real creative if we are going to move the ball forward so to speak.
OldSchool
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Believe the head coach trying showcase his son in an attempt to find a NFL program for him to play QB was more important than running a football program. His lack of true talent recruiting for the long haul has put the program behind the true contenders for conference dominance.

It will take sometime for the program to recover from this laps, but I faith in the Lumberjack Athletic leadership to right the sinking ship and put us back in the hunt and back where our kids believe they can win every game we go into. That can only happen when they believe in team leadership.

Kids need to know change is coming and search has begun .
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