“Take it out to the city” Conque reflects on past two years

On March 17, 2016, central Arkansans watched as Little Rock men’s basketball senior guard Josh Hagins drained a three-pointer to force overtime versus Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, a game the Trojans would win in double-overtime. Named by many as the biggest upset of the tournament, the win capped a 30-5 season for the Trojan men, while the women’s basketball team earned a spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

The basketball programs’ accomplishments rekindled interest in the Trojans and placed first-year men’s head coach Chris Beard on the same level as Mike Newell in the annals of Trojan athletics history. But

Conque has been LR’s athletic director for three years. Photo: Nelson Chenault

in reality the groundwork for the 2015-2016 success arrived a year earlier when one-time director of player development Chasse Conque was named LR’s new athletic director.

 

At his introductory press conference, Conque shared his goals in his new position.

“Little Rock deserves a strong Division-I  department of athletics,” he said.

That belief and passion for the city and university has driven Conque in his first three years as head of UA Little Rock athletics. But his love for college athletics was instilled at an early age.

Conque grew up on the University of Central Arkansas campus in Conway where his father, Clint, served as head football coach for over a decade. In fact, college football, and college sports in general, runs in Chasse Conque’s blood. His grandfather served as a D-I head football coach, his uncle coached, and his youngest brother, Zachary, is a former college football player and current member of the New York Jets.

“Growing up in a coaching family, I wanted to be in college athletics,” Conque said. “I didn’t necessarily want to be on the coaching side.”

Instead, Conque’s love for the campus environment and college-level athletics led him to discovering his dream at 12 years old: working as a college athletics administrator.

After attending and graduating from UA Little Rock, Conque’s first stint in the school’s athletics department came in 2007 as director of development. He left the department in 2011 to work for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences as its senior director of development before finding his way back “home” in 2015.

Working in college athletics administration comes with rewards and challenges. For Conque, most of the rewards involve dealing with student athletes and the community.

“Watching our student athletes succeed is definitely the most rewarding. We talk about ‘graduating champions,’ and that really sums it all up,” Conque said. “Watching the community rally around the Little Rock Trojans… building relationships with our campus community… and watching our city respond, just some of those small victories along the way are rewarding.”

Conque takes graduating champions to heart. UA Little Rock saw a record combined grade point average for student athletes last year at 3.29, an impressive GPA for any segment of students.

Working with the resources at hand is the toughest part of Conque’s job. College athletics is an “arms race,” he noted. Compared to other schools in the Sun Belt Conference, as well as the nation, LR operates with little in the way of resources.

The lack of resources and financial health of UA Little Rock in recent years has forced the athletics department to focus on generating external revenue. In 2015, Conque’s department started the “I’ve Got Mine” marketing campaign featuring local public figures pictured holding their LR basketball season tickets. The campaign, along with other department efforts, helped increase basketball season ticket sales, adding $400,000 in revenue for the athletics program.

“I’ve Got Mine” is just one of several management decisions Conque is proud of in his time at LR. He’s overseen the hiring of two basketball coaches, and the extension of another coach’s contract. Likewise, he has been able to keep another promise he made at his opening press conference.

“Our students deserve a strong Division-I athletics department and one that they feel apart of,” Conque said.

By creating the “Maroon Mob,” student involvement in the athletics program has increased.

A lot has happened in  Chasse Conque’s relatively short tenure as UA Little Rock Athletic Director, but perhaps the most notable achievement has been the rebranding that took place some six months after his arrival. The school announced all athletics programs would be referred to as the “Little Rock Trojans,” similar to precedent set by schools like the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The hashtag “#LittleRocksTeam,” Conque’s own creation, was announced as well. Conque bought into the rebranding while watching T.V. advertisements for the women’s basketball team.

“I saw two or three different references to Little Rock. It was ‘UALR,’ [or] ‘UARKLR.’ I felt like we had somewhat of an  identity crisis that we needed to address,” Conque said. He thought a clearer connection to the city, the school’s “most valuable resource,” was needed.

While many consider UA Little Rock a “basketball school,” a characterization Conque stated was fair, in recent months, some students on campus have pushed for a football program. Last April, the school’s Student Government Association presented a petition with over 1,000 signatures supporting the idea to Conque and university chancellor Andrew Rogerson. In response, the athletics department announced a feasibility study to investigate adding a football program.

While some students are excited at the prospect of football, others are not so thrilled. Harrison Hudson feels the venture could have some significant risks.

“I hope the administration treads lightly in this matter,” Hudson said. “If you’re not a ‘power-five’ school, you can expect to struggle financially in the long-term… The idea of LR  football is enticing, but that’s a big investment.”

When asked about the financial concerns with football and the study, Conque assured the study was being funded through private donors and coordination with the City of Little Rock, and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. He said it was the “right time” for a study to address a football program’s feasibility. He also stated the study was student-driven and gave credit to the SGA for coming to them. Finally, Conque added that the study would help evaluate the entire athletics department, not just on the potential football front.

When asked to reflect on his first year at LR and the overwhelming success of the 2015-16 basketball season, Conque credits the accomplishments to the people around him. He cited the hiring of former head basketball coach Chris Beard and his collection of staff and recruiting of athletes as the key to the season’s success. He also noted that the successes in basketball helped to cement support for the rebranding, which occurred only a few months before the season began.

Last month, the university announced a five-year contract extension for Conque, which will keep him and his wife, Lisa, another UA Little Rock graduate, and three children, in the capital city until at least 2022. Despite his lack of a crystal ball, Conque has personal hopes for the program in the coming years.

“I want our university to be proud, our campus community to be more engaged,” Conque said. “Take that fire, passion, and energy we have for the Trojans right here on South University… take it out to the city .”

While Conque has already seen success in his relatively brief time at the school, his eyes are firmly set on the future.

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