AMES, Iowa – T.J. Otzelberger (OTTS-ull-burger), who has crisscrossed the nation recruiting all-star talent and building championship-level programs, is returning “home” as the 21st head men’s basketball coach in Iowa State history.
Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard made the announcement Thursday. Otzelberger will be introduced virtually Friday at 10:30 a.m. CT and that news conference feed will be available on cyclones.com and on Iowa State Athletics social media channels. The hiring is pending a background check by the University.
This will be Otzelberger’s third stint in Ames, but his first as head coach. Previously, he was lead recruiter and bench coach for Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm. The last three Cyclone teams Otzelberger worked with registered a 69-35 (.663) overall record with NCAA Tournament appearances every season.
“It’s with great excitement and anticipation that we welcome T.J., Alison and their three children to Iowa State,” Pollard said. “T.J. was instrumental in helping our program achieve some of its most-significant achievement and he is keenly aware of what it takes to be successful at Iowa State.”
Otzelberger left a flourishing ISU program in 2016 to begin building his own head coaching resume. He spent three successful years in charge at South Dakota State where his teams amassed 70 victories, won two regular season and conference tournament championships and earned three post-season appearances. At UNLV he was re-energizing the Runnin’ Rebels’ program, which is college basketball’s fifth-winningest program but had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
“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.”
Pollard underlined several of Otzelberger’s personal strengths and his unique history with Iowa State.
“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. “T.J. has always wanted to be the head coach at Iowa State, and he realized several years ago that creating his own head coaching resume was a requirement to build his candidacy. The success and challenges he experienced at South Dakota State and UNLV prepared him to lead our program back to national prominence. I am excited for his to return to Hilton Coliseum and Cyclone Nation.”
The homecoming to Ames almost reads like a Hollywood script.
“I couldn’t be more enthused about the opportunity that President (Wendy) Wintersteen and Jamie (Pollard) have given our family,” Otzelberger said. “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 (Australia native Alison Lacey, who played for ISU) adopted home. 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 re-establish a championship culture.”
Otzelberger just finished his second year at UNLV where he was in the midst of restoring one of college basketball’s glamour programs. In his two seasons, the gains were being realized on the court, in recruiting circles and in the classroom.
In his first season (2019-20) in Las Vegas, the Runnin’ Rebels tied for second in the Mountain West Conference, won 12 league games (Rollie Massimino, in 1993, was the last coach to win more conference games), signed the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the MWC and excelled in the classroom.
UNLV won its final five regular-season games his first year as Otzelberger’s game-plan started to take hold. The Runnin’ Rebels sent shockwaves through college basketball with an upset of undefeated and No. 4 San Diego State, the school’s best road win in 30 years.
The 2020-21 roster included 10 players (seven freshmen), who had never played a game for UNLV. A 33-day break due to COVID-19 and losing its captain and starting point guard in January were other challenges that Otzelberger navigated. With the youthful roster, a month-long break from practice and competition and a season-ending injury to a team leader, UNLV endured four one-possession defeats to finish in the middle of the MWC.
Otzelberger is closing in on his 100th career victory having forged a five-year collegiate record of 99-63. His teams have been extremely competitive in conference play with a 67% winning rate and three championship or runner-up finishes.
At South Dakota State (2017-19), Otzelberger built reputations for winning and high-level offense. The Jackrabbits were 70-33 overall, won two Summit League regular-season titles, made the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT once. SDSU finished seventh and fifth nationally in scoring offense his final two years.
In his rookie season as a head coach (2017), SDSU became the first in league history to win three conference tourney games in three days to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The 2018 Jackrabbits set a school record with 28 wins, won both the conference regular-season and tournament titles and earned a No. 12 seed in NCAA West Region. They were the highest scoring team in school history and were among the NCAA leaders in points, three pointers, fewest turnovers, free throws and winning percentage. He was honored as the Summit League Coach of the Year.
Otzelberger’s final South Dakota State team won 24 games, earned the Summit League title again, ranked among the nation’s Top 10 in five offensive categories and earned a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
His star player was three-time Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum. The sweet-shooting big man was an Honorable Mention All-American, became the Summit League’s career scoring leader and the 10th player in history with more than 3,000 career points.
Prior to joining the head coach ranks, Otzelberger served two stints over eight years as an assistant or associate coach with the Cyclones. He started as an aid to McDermott and was credited with recruiting a number of stars – Craig Brackins, Diante Garrett, Mike Taylor, Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim – to the program.
Otzelberger was a holdover on the staff when Hoiberg replaced McDermott on the sidelines. His duties expanded – as he was promoted to Associate Coach – under Hoiberg. Otzelberger was in charge of scouting reports and game plans in 2012 and 2013 when ISU won 23 games each season and made the NCAA Tournament.
Otzelberger’s eye for talent continued under Hoiberg. Iowa State signed and developed a number of eventual professional players – Wesley Johnson, Justin Hamilton, Royce White, Chris Allen, Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee, Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Abdel Nader, Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton while he was on staff.
The final two seasons with the Hoiberg-Otzelberger tandem in place were among the most-entertaining in school history. Iowa State ranked in the top five nationally for scoring and three-point baskets while winning consistently in Hilton Coliseum, where the Cyclones registered a 22-game homecourt win streak.
Otzelberger was on Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington for two years (2014-15). The Huskies climbed as high as No. 11 in the national polls in 2014, and Otzelberger was credited with helping sign a Top 10 recruiting class in 2015.
When Prohm was named head coach in 2015-16, Otzelberger returned for one year with the Cyclones and that team won 23 games and advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen. They defeated four ranked schools, including No. 1 Oklahoma in Hilton Coliseum.
In the community, Otzelberger was very involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Ames and he assisted in bringing the National Association of Basketball Coaches “Stay in to Win” program to central Iowa. At the 2017 NCAA Final Four, he received a prestigious Guardians of the Game Award from the NABC for his work with that program focusing on student success and dropout prevention.
Prior to Iowa State, Otzelberger was an assistant coach at Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, when the team was 33-4 and placed fourth in the NJCAA tournament. He also spent three seasons at Catholic Central High School in Burlington, Wis., where he was a coach and athletics director for parts of his tenure.
The 43-year-old native of Milwaukee was a two-year captain at UW-Whitewater, where he earned his business administration degree in 2001. He added a Masters’ of Science degree in Curriculum and Instruction from UW-Whitewater in 2004.
Otzelberger is married to Alison Lacey, a three-time All-Big 12 player for the ISU women’s basketball program. Lacey scored 1,620 points while leading the Cyclones to four NCAA Tournaments, including an Elite Eight (2009) and Sweet Sixteen (2010). She played professionally in the WNBA for the Seattle Storm, including its championship season of 2010. The couple has three children: Jayce, Olivia and Stella.
The Otzelberger File
Born: Sept. 17, 1977
Education: B.A., UW-Whitewater, 2001; M.A., UW-Whitewater, 2004
Family: Wife, Alison; Children, Jayce, Olivia and Stella
Collegiate Coaching Experience
2004-05 Chipola College, Assistant Coach
2006-11 Iowa State, Assistant Coach
2012-13 Iowa State, Associate Coach
2014-15 Washington, Assistant Coach
2015-16 Iowa State, Assistant Coach
2016-19 South Dakota State, Head Coach
2019-21 UNLV, Head Coach
2021- Iowa State, Head Coach
COURTESY IOWA STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS