By Chuck Pool (email@example.com) -
Former Rice head football coach Al Conover, whose four-year stint with the Owls was highlighted by notable wins and many colorful moments, has passed away at the age of 77 in Port Richey, Florida.
Conover came to Rice in 1971 as the offensive coordinator on Bill Peterson's staff and after Peterson left to coach the Houston Oilers the following year, the 33-year old Conover took over as the Owls' head coach.
He posted an overall mark of 14-28-1 on South Main, including a 10-18 mark in Southwest Conference action. He led the Owls to their first win over Houston in his first game as head coach as well as Rice's first win the Bayou Bucket in 1975.
He led the Owls to a 5-5-1 record in 1972, their best finish since 1963 and one year later posted a 4-3 mark in the Southwest Conference, Rice's last mark above .500 until 1992.
Conover became as well known for some of his motivational ploys as for the wins they inspired. In his first season, he punctuated a fiery speech to his team before they took the field at heavily favored Arkansas by throwing a chair through a window in the locker room. Inspired, the Owls delivered a 23-20 win, his first over a conference foe and Rice's first in Arkansas since 1958.
That win snapped a four-game losing streak and two weeks after Conover had interrupted practice by driving a hearse on to the field and having team members take cards listing their mistakes in a loss to Texas and bury them.
The following week, when he was unable to find Texas A&M head coach Emory Bellard after a 20-14 in at Kyle Field, he stopped to briefly conduct the Aggie Band before descending the stairs to the locker room.
Conover brought a group of priests to sit on the Rice bench when the Owls hosted Notre Dame in 1973, but the ploy failed to inspire the Rice offense as the Owls were blanked 28-0 by the eventual national champions.
Rice dropped to 4-17-2 in Conover's final two years but in 1974 he fashioned a 10-10 tie over No. 17 LSU and a 21-7 win over No. 13 Texas Tech at Rice Stadium. He opened his final season with a 24-7 win over Houston in the second installment of the Bayou Bucket, but he could only muster a win over SMU and was replaced by Homer Rice after the season.
He retired from coaching after his dismissal from Rice and entered private business. He remained a popular figure with his players from his years at Rice, who formed an annual "Al's Pals" reunion for a number of years. He made his last visit to Rice in 2012 to participate in interviews for a documentary on the first century of Rice Football: