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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.
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