Notebook: Otzelberger’s focus is on rebuilding and retaining

T.J. Otzelberger speaks with the media over Zoom as he is introduced as the 21st men’s basketball coach at Iowa State. 

Zane Douglas

After an event-filled week, with Iowa State and former Head Coach Steve Prohm parting ways and hiring former UNLV Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger to take his place, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard and Otzelberger held a press conference Friday to make the transition official.

After a 2-22 season for the Cyclones, the focus of the press conference turned to rebuilding.

Otzelberger, a former Iowa State assistant coach under Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Prohm, will try to get the program back to its winning ways it had when he was part of the program in the past.

Retaining the future

A big issue that has arisen for Iowa State — and any team going through a coaching overhaul — is whether the team can retain all of its players and recruits.

Otzelberger will have his work cut out for him immediately as he’ll be asked to retain a couple sorely needed recruits.

There are only two recruits, Tyrese Hunter and Jayden Nunn, but Hunter is a top-50 recruit in the nation by and ESPN, where he’s ranked 34th and 37th respectively.

“We had interest in Tyrese at UNLV and started a process,” Otzelberger said. “Didn’t get too far down the road, but identified his talent and thought he was special… the players on the roster and the players with Tyrese being signed, those are the guys we’re gonna start all the conversations with.”

Hunter is also at a position the Cyclones desperately need, which is point guard. The point guard position was occupied by Rasir Bolton and some combination of Tyler Harris, Jaden Walker and Javan Johnson last season.

With all four of those players playing out of position, Iowa State had an ugly season from a playmaking standpoint. Hunter could help fix that as well as Nunn, who is also listed at the position.

Finding the magic again

A storyline at the start of the season for all NCAA basketball teams was whether the lack of a large crowd would affect home teams much. There were mixed results, but Iowa State’s home crowd energy, or “Hilton Magic,” being gone was felt.

The Cyclones only picked up two home wins and they were both to teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. In the Big 12, Iowa State finished the season 0-9 at Hilton Coliseum after winning five of nine the year before.

“We need to bring the magic back to Hilton Coliseum,” Otzelberger said. “We need to start building a foundation that’s going to create success over the long haul.”

The lack of a large home crowd combined with poor performances resulted in a tough year overall. Parting ways with Prohm and hiring Otzelberger is how Pollard will try to steer the course back.

Pollard was adamant it would take time, but he said he was just as certain the Iowa State community would stick with the team through anything.

Even if it will take time, Otzelberger’s clock starts ticking now as the head coach and he’ll be looking to get the program on track as quickly and sustainably as possible.

Financial details of Otzelberger’s contract

Every new coach hiring in the NCAA, especially when buyouts are involved, can be a bit messy, but when a global pandemic is also thrown in, athletic directors have to get creative.

That’s what Pollard said he and Otzelberger had to do in order for the hire to work.

Pollard said Otzelberger’s contract would be five years and heavily incentive-based, which he said was similar to Iowa State football Head Coach Matt Campbell’s new extension.

“Taking on additional expenditures at a time when we really don’t need to be taking those on certainly makes this process more challenging,” Pollard said. “As I said in a video to our fans several days ago, it was gonna be critical that whoever we hired was willing to think creatively with us on how to tackle those.”

Otzelberger’s buyout in the $4-4.5 million range isn’t the only buyout the Cyclones are worrying about either. Parting ways with Prohm also meant the Cyclones would have to buy out his contract, which cost about $5.5 million.

Pollard said the buyout debt and other financial hurdles would be added into Iowa State Athletics’ previously announced $25 million deficit.