T.J. Otzelberger is returning to Iowa State as head basketball coach after two years at UNLV, athletic director Jamie Pollard announced Thursday.
This will be the 43-year-old Otzelberger’s third stint in Ames, his first as head coach. He was an assistant under Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm, who was fired Tuesday after a 2-22 season in which the Cyclones went winless in the Big 12.
“It’s somewhat rare to get the chance to return home, but Iowa State was my first stop as a Division I college coach and it is my wife’s adopted home,” said Otzelberger, whose wife, Alison Lacey, was a three-time All-Big 12 pick for the Cyclones. “The resources are here to build and sustain a program that competes at a high level in the Big 12 and nationally. I’m familiar with the foundation of the school and basketball program and am eager and inspired to sell our vision and reestablish a championship culture.”
Otzelberger left Iowa State in 2016 to become head coach at South Dakota State, where his teams won 70 games in three years.
“I have had a close professional relationship with T.J. for many years and admired his work ethic and commitment to excellence,” Pollard said. “Having watched him grow professionally, I am convinced he is exactly what our program needs at this time.”
Otzelberger’s first UNLV team was 17-15 overall and tied for second in the Mountain West at 12-6, the program’s most conference wins since 1993. This season, the Runnin’ Rebels slipped to 12-15 and 8-10, finishing seventh in the league.
“When our coaches are being pursued by others, it is a testament to what we are building,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said. “We appreciate Coach Otzelberger’s contributions to our men’s basketball program and we wish T.J. and his family all the best as they continue their journey.”
Otzelberger had been McDermott’s lead recruiter during his first run at Iowa State, which began in 2006. Otzelberger was credited with recruiting standouts such as Craig Brackins, Diante Garrett, Mike Taylor, Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim.
Otzelberger is 99-63 as a Division I coach. At South Dakota State (2017-19), Otzelberger’s teams were led by Mike Daum and built reputations for winning and high-level offense. The Jackrabbits were 70-33 overall, won two Summit League regular-season titles and made the NCAA tournament twice and the NIT once. SDSU finished in the top seven in scoring offense in his final two years.
Otzelberger was retained when Hoiberg was hired in 2010, and the Cyclones made the NCAA tournament twice before he left for an assistant’s job at Washington.
Otzelberger returned in 2015 for one season under Prohm. The Cyclones won 23 games and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 that season.
“He is a natural leader who understands how to recruit to Iowa State, values our department culture of doing things the right way, and employs a work ethic that rivals anyone in this business,” Pollard said. “The success and challenges he experienced at South Dakota State and UNLV prepared him to lead our program back to national prominence.”