Update: UTRGV Athletics hires new AD

EDINBURG — UTRGV’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced the hiring of Chasse Conque as the school’s newest vice president and director of athletics Friday.

“First, I think it’s a very unique opportunity to be able to work at a new institution that has two very strong legacy institutions and tradition there. You have President (Guy) Bailey’s vision and what he’s continued to do during his tenure and locking arms with him and working with and this senior administration, they’re hungry for a strong athletics department that really engages the community,” Conque told The Monitor in a phone interview Friday evening. “Then you look at the Rio Grande Valley and you look at the potential there. You look at the metropolitan area and we really have a chance to be the Valley’s college team. That’s my goal for UTRGV is to elevate the profile where we’re having success with our current coaches in our programs and I think there’s enormous potential with a campus of 30,000 to be able to unite everybody behind Vaquero athletics.”

Conque has previously served as vice president and director of athletics at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock since 2015. While at Arkansas-Little Rock — a Division I athletic university — he guided a total transformation and upgrade of the school’s athletic department and programs.

“We are confident that Chasse is the right person to take UTRGV Athletics to the next level,” UTRGV President Guy Bailey said in a news release. “He is truly a rising star in the industry, and hiring someone of his caliber is a direct reflection of the great things occurring at UTRGV.”

“I’d like to thank Rick Anderson (EVP for Finance and Administration) for serving as interim athletics director and the members of the search committee for their outstanding work throughout this process.”

When asked about potential opportunities to expand the existing UTRGV athletic department, Conque pointed to a moment at Little Rock when he was faced with a similar decision.

“There’s nothing that immediately needs to be done or will be done in short order. Obviously you always keep an eye on sports that can continue to engage the campus community and the entire Rio Grande Valley region,” Conque said.

“I know there have been conversations and am very well aware of the recent football study UTRGV went under. We went through one at Little Rock as well and we were probably about six to eight months behind UTRGV’s study. It was a very good process for us at Little Rock, but the decision we came to at the time when we finished our study was that now was not the time to start football at Little Rock.”

During Conque’s first year at Arkansas-Little Rock, however, the men’s basketball team — under the guidance of now-Texas Tech coach Chris Beard (Conque’s first coaching hire) — finished the regular season 30-5 before advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It started with the hiring of Chris Beard. That was my first coaching hire when I became the AD in March 2015. It really sparked us and we knew we had the potential here to win at basketball and rally the community. I knew Chris was talented. I didn’t know how fast we would get on our trajectory but it was a special year,” Conque said.

“I can also say the same for women’s basketball. I told (Coach) Lord at UTRGV this morning my appreciation for both men’s and women’s basketball is very key and important to our institution. At Little Rock, we’ve had three NCAA Tournament appearance since I’ve been here on the women’s side and they beat Texas A&M in 2015 to advance to the second round and built a strong basketball program all the way around.”

During his time in Little Rock, the Trojans’ sports programs combined for 19 Sun Belt Conference championships. Little Rock also produced almost four dozen all-conference player selections in a variety of sports and had three different coaches given Sun Belt Coach of the Year honors.

“Chasse Conque is truly one of the ‘rising stars’ in this business,” Karl Benson, former commissioner of the Mid-American, Western Athletic and Sun Belt Conferences, said in a news release. “While a big loss for Little Rock, this is a great,  no, tremendous hire for UTRGV.”

Conque managed to set a university fundraising record, raising $4.3 million in 2017-18 and added a wrestling program too that now competes in the Pac-12 Conference. While also at Little Rock, he helped raise the student-athlete GPA to above 3.00 for the duration of his tenure and gave the university the highest student athlete graduation rate of any DI school in Arkansas in six of the previous seven years.

“It’s the entire student athlete experience; we talk about it being mind, body and spirit. As for the academic piece, they are students first,” Conque said. “To be able to raise our GPA to a record level at 3.66 last fall was really remarkable. At Little Rock, we only had one academic advisor so our coaches, under direction from our administration, the type of student-athletes we recruited really helped us elevate our academic profile. We put a premium on that, and I know UTRGV has as well … I knew that our values aligned there and that was very important.”

Conque received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Central Arkansas University and earned his MBA from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock in 2008. An official start date still hasn’t been set, but he hopes to begin his new position by Sept. 1.

“UTRGV has hired one of the real up-and-comers in athletics administration,” said Dr. Joel Anderson, chancellor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, in a news release. “Chasse is a very talented and solid man who will be a great asset to the university and to the community.”