Belinson: Otzelberger, Pollard know fixing Iowa State will take significant time

Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard (right) and T.J. Otzelberger (left) speak with the media over Zoom to introduce Otzelberger as the 21st men’s basketball coach at Iowa State on March 19.

Matt Belinson

One theme became clear during T.J. Otzelberger’s introductory press conference Friday: There is no one-size-fits-all timeline to fix Iowa State men’s basketball.

It’s no secret why when you take an overview of where the program sits.

The Cyclone program has been on a downward spiral over the last three seasons, with a combined 37-54 overall record and an unsavory 14-40 Big 12 record leading to the hire of the former UNLV head coach.

Otzelberger’s familiarity with the program and immediate culture fit was one of the talking points in Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard’s hire of the former UNLV head coach. And while there’s no question that will be important in turning around the Cyclones, the question fans should wonder — and rightfully so given where the program sits — is when will the program get back to Big 12 competitiveness and relevancy? 

In fact, it was the first thing Pollard said when introducing Otzelberger. 

“I know ultimately, T.J. will be evaluated based on how our basketball program does, but if the last 24 hours are any indication, we couldn’t have found a better fit,” Pollard said in his opening statement.

But even with those winning expectations in mind, the two were coy when asked how soon fans should expect to see success take shape again in Ames.

And I think that was a smart approach for Pollard and Otzelberger to take less than 24 hours after the former UNLV head coach took the Cyclones gig. After all, we all know this program is in desperate need of a reset, hence Otzelberger’s arrival, but it would have been foolish to put a brand new coach on the ticking clock before he even coaches a game at Hilton Coliseum.

However, their vague answers on a timeline toward success still admit some sort of end goal for when Iowa State could be truly relevant again.

“It became clear during those meetings that there is no short-term fix,” Pollard said in his video announcing Steve Prohm would no longer be the head coach at Iowa State on Tuesday. “It might take several years.” 

It’s not an answer Cyclone fans probably want to hear, but the idea of a seven-year reboot is accurate.

Iowa State’s roster is not as up to par as others in the league and needs a fresh face in a lot of key positions to get there.

Baylor, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so that throws out the idea of being a top-five team in the league within two or three seasons.

The Big 12 has 70 percent of its teams in the NCAA Tournament and with Hall-of-Fame coaches lining the benches opposite of Otzelberger, success in this league is going to take patience and more waiting than some fans might be ready for.

“We certainly have a lot of respect for the coaches in the league and the programs. The Big 12 is the best conference in America and that’s proven by 70 percent of the teams playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Otzelberger said when asked about the challenge of finding wins in a league like the Big 12.

If you consider yourself an optimist, just take a look at other teams in the Big 12 and think to yourself what would be the best-case scenario for the Cyclones next season? I think you would land around four to five wins in the league, which isn’t even close to being in line for the NCAA Tournament.

“The pride I have in this program and the passion that I have for us to be successful I don’t think can be defined at this point what the outcomes will be this year, next year, the coming year,” Otzelberger said.

This is a true rebuild and there’s no way around it.

A real rebuild won’t simply come overnight in the offseason by pulling in transfers and highly-touted recruit Tyrese Hunter. This program is in a tough spot of expecting results but not having the means right now to get there.

High-major college basketball is all about results and for Iowa State’s sake, they’ll need to come eventually. But Otzelberger was smart in not setting up fans with lofty, spelled-out goals to put his tenure under the microscope from the jump.

“I know that our passion for our position and our desire to be here and our vision and be able to recruit young men that want to be here you can’t compete with that and I know as time moves forward, that’s going to win out. Do I know exactly when and how and what that looks like? I don’t,” Otzelberger said.