‘Perfect coach and the perfect fit’: Jamie Pollard gives thoughts on Otzelberger hire

Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard told Cyclone fans in a video message Thursday that T.J. Otzelberger is a perfect fit to become the new Iowa State men’s basketball head coach. 

Matt Belinson

A new era for Iowa State men’s basketball has officially begun.

T.J. Otzelberger, the former head coach at UNLV and assistant coach at Iowa State, was officially announced as the next head coach of the Cyclones by Jamie Pollard and Iowa State Athletics in a video and letter to fans Thursday.

The hire comes three days after Iowa State Athletics and Steve Prohm agreed to part ways after the Cyclones finished 2-22 and 0-18 in Big 12 play in their 2020-21 season.

Enter Otzelberger, whom Pollard praised in his 12-minute video to fans as the “perfect fit” for an Iowa State program in need of a reset.

“It became obvious to us that T.J. Otzelberger was the perfect coach and the perfect fit for Iowa State University at this particular time,” Pollard said in the video announcement.

Otzelberger holds a 99-63 overall record as a head coach at South Dakota State and UNLV. At his first head coaching gig at South Dakota State, he coached the Jackrabbits to the NCAA Tournament in two of his three seasons before heading to Las Vegas.

In his time coaching the Runnin’ Rebels, Otzelberger posted a 29-30 record, including finishing 12-15 this season.

But why is he the perfect fit? Pollard explained in his video message to fans that Otzelberger’s history of recruiting in the Midwest and his culture fit in Ames having already coached in the program for eight years.

Iowa State roots

As a former Iowa State assistant coach under former Iowa State head coaches Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Prohm, Otzelberger’s history in Ames played a significant factor in the decision to bring him back as head coach.

Pollard said Otzelberg’s recruiting connections in the Midwest, what it would be like living in the Midwest and his understanding of how to market Iowa State to recruits made him the top choice.

“It was very clear one candidate had far more knowledge and was more prepared and was the most ready to take our job,” Pollard said.

Otzelberger’s track record as a proven recruiter has some weight to it, with the new Cyclones head coach recruiting notable names like Craig Brackins, Melvin Ejim, Diante Garrett, Georges Niang, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and many more in his previous time as an assistant coach.

“T.J was so involved in recruiting many of the great players that have come through Iowa State during that eight-year period,” Pollard said. “He knows how to recruit to Iowa State. He knows how to recruit in the Midwest.”

The hiring process

Pollard gave insight into how the hiring process took shape immediately after the decision to move on from Prohm.

It wouldn’t be uncommon for people to assume Pollard was the one leading the hiring process and handling every decision, but in his video to fans Thursday, he explained that wasn’t the case for this hire.

Pollard thanked Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen and Iowa State Faculty Athletics Representative Tim Day for constant feedback and autonomy to work fast in making a decision. 

Wintersteen issued a statement of congratulations to Otzelberger and welcoming him back to Ames again.

“Coach Otzelberger and his family have strong connections to the university, and we are excited to welcome them back home,” Wintersteen said in a statement. “It was a pleasure for me to meet with T.J. and get to know him during this process.”

Day and Wintersteen were essential in the process of interviewing Otzelberger on Wednesday, and Pollard was grateful for their efforts in finding the new head coach.

“At the end of the interview Wednesday night, Dr. Wintersteen and I were able to jointly offer T.J. the opportunity to be our next head coach, and this morning, T.J. and Alison called me to share with us that they had chosen to be Cyclones again,” Pollard said.

Pollard also shared that Otzelberger didn’t leave UNLV without some effort to try and make him stay from UNLV officials, including UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois. 

“I know [Reed-Francois] didn’t want to lose T.J.,” Pollard said. “She did everything in her power to keep T.J. at UNLV, including offering an extension late [Wednesday]. But in the end, T.J. and Alison really want to come home to Ames and be Cyclones again. … I’m excited for us to bring back Hilton Magic to Hilton Coliseum.”