116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES - T.J. Otzelberger thought he knew everything he needed to know about coaching after spending eight seasons as an Iowa State assistant coach.
The new ISU head men's basketball coach was an assistant for Greg McDermott beginning in 2006 at Iowa State and he stayed on as an assistant through 2013 and the early years of Fred Hoiberg's tenure. After a two-season hiatus as a Washington assistant, Steve Prohm brought Otzelberger back in 2015.
'When I was Fred's right-hand guy here at Iowa State, I thought I knew everything,” Otzelberger said Friday during his introductory press conference. 'I thought I was so well prepared to be a head coach. I worked for three great head coaches who allowed me all of the responsibilities and empowered me. But at the same time, until you're sitting in that chair, you really never quite know what it's like.”
After spending eight years as an assistant at Iowa State and five years as a head coach at two different schools, Otzelberger was named Iowa State's head coach Thursday. Athletics director Jamie Pollard said Friday his contract would be five years and heavily incentivized if he reaches certain thresholds. Pollard said the details of the contract aren't fully ironed out so he didn't go into specifics about the base salary of the contract, or how much those incentives would be.
Otzelberger was McDermott's lead recruiter. For Hoiberg, he handled all of the opponent scouting reports and game preparation. He knew all of the individual factors of what it took to be in charge of a program; he had just never put them all together before as a head coach.
To gain the much-needed experience of what it took to be a successful head coach, Otzelberger took the South Dakota State job in 2016.
The Jackrabbits were a perennial power in the Summit League under former coach Scott Nagy from 1995-2016. It was a great opportunity for Otzelberger to take over an established program. All he had to do was not screw up.
'What I learned my first year at South Dakota State was it felt like multiple years in one,” Otzelberger said. 'We were at a program that had success, yet we had four starters that didn't return from the year before. Early in the year, things didn't go quite as well as we would've liked.”
SDSU started the season 2-6 in Otzelberger's first year.
That's when he had a conversation with himself as he was addressing the team.
'I remember my internal dialogue being, ‘They're watching you right now,'” Otzelberger said. '‘They're feeding off of your energy and it's not what you say, but it's about your actions. They have to see that confidence and they have to see that resiliency. If you're going to get them to buy into what you're saying, you better believe it yourself.'
'There are so many things I've learned about myself as a head coach. Even watching myself on the sidelines - I've studied my court demeanor. You tell your team as a coach to be poised and calm, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't say there were times during that first year that I might've let emotions get the best of me.”
As Otzelberger learned more about himself as a head coach, his team grew as well.
SDSU rebounded from the poor start, won the Summit League tournament and made the NCAA tournament.
The Jackrabbits made the NCAA tournament twice in Otzelberger's three years in Brookings, S.D.
'I've been fortunate that as I've had those challenging experiences, I've had success along the way,” Otzelberger said. 'Those challenges we had, turned into stories about fighting through adversity to have success.”
After a successful run at SDSU, he moved on to UNLV, where he was tasked with a rebuild.
'As I moved forward to UNLV, I had an entirely different experience,” Otzelberger said. 'It was a different region and it was a city as opposed to a Midwest college town.”
At UNLV, he led the Runnin' Rebels to their first 12-win conference season since 1993 and beat then-No. 4 San Diego State on the road.
'What those experiences do is they help prepare you,” Otzelberger said. 'They give you the background and a skill set to help adapt, adjust and understand what it means to be a head coach and lead people every day.”
Iowa State will be another rebuild for Otzelberger. The Cyclones are coming off a winless conference season and back-to-back losing seasons.
Otzelberger was in Ames during the lean years of McDermott and the conference championships and Sweet 16s of Hoiberg and the first year of Prohm.
He believes he knows how to have success in Ames.
'I've been fortunate enough to work for three tremendous coaches at this institution and I've seen a lot of ways to do things,” Otzelberger said. 'I feel like I have an advantage about knowing what it takes to be successful here and how to go about that one step at a time.”
Pollard said in the athletics department's press release that he anticipated that the rebuild could take multiple years.
Otzelberger believes his past experiences make him qualified to lead that rebuild.
'I can say that I've had every responsibility in a basketball program,” Otzelberger said in regard to his time as an assistant. 'And I've had opportunities as a head coach - I've called the timeouts, been in NCAA tournament games, beat a top-five team in the country on the road.
'I think I'm uniquely prepared for this opportunity.”