Otzelberger discusses parting ways with Caleb Grill


Tyler Coe

Caleb Grill shoots a layup against Oklahoma on Feb. 25, 2023.

The Iowa State men’s basketball team announced the dismissal of Caleb Grill Wednesday afternoon.

The decision to dismiss Grill from the team shocked the college basketball world. Grill had been a key component of the team’s success, being a huge factor in many of Iowa State’s upset wins.

Grill’s impact first came in the Phil Knight Invitational when the Cyclones took down North Carolina, the No. 1 ranked team at the time. Grill popped off for 31 points, knocking down crucial three-pointers late in the game to give Iowa State life.

From that game on, it was clear that the Cyclones could beat any team in the nation as long as Grill was doing what he did best: hitting threes.

Grill had the faith of his team as the Cyclones looked to be better than ever, sitting near the top of the Big 12 through the start of the season. The person who had the most faith in Grill wasn’t any of his teammates, though. It was Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger.

“You develop a bond. You care for somebody. You want them to be successful,” Otzelberger said. “I’ve had a belief in him for a long time. Enough of a belief to want him here with us at Iowa State. As things move forward, I’m a fan of Caleb Grill, and I want Caleb Grill to do well.”

Otzelberger and Grill had a strong bond from the start. Otzelberger was part of Grill’s journey to the Iowa State starting lineup, as he was the first coach to take notice of the young sharpshooter.

Otzelberger recruited Grill out of high school and is the main reason Grill transferred to UNLV for a year. He wanted to reconnect with his old friend.

Grill released a written statement on Twitter following his dismissal. In the statement, Grill went on to thank those that helped him along the way.

“You are the big brother that I never had and I love you more than I could express to you,” Grill stated about Otzelberger.

With the relationship the two had, there was no surprise that Grill followed Otzelberger to Iowa State. The first coach to give Grill a chance would end up giving him another chance as Grill earned a spot on the Cyclones’ starting lineup.

However, Otzelberger made it clear that every individual can run out of chances. Even though Otzelberger had a strong relationship with Grill, when it comes down to it, Otzelberger had to be a coach first and a friend second.

“I really care about being the head coach at Iowa State,” Otzelberger said. “This program really matters to me. This, it’s personal, it’s my family. There’s no position or job I honor more than being the head coach of this program. Regardless of how difficult the choice may or may not be and the give-and-tug, I have a responsibility and I have a job to do.”

The decision to let Grill go wasn’t an easy one, but it was a decision that had to be made. Grill was clearly on thin ice and instead of fixing the issues he had, he did something that couldn’t be fixed.

“Unfortunately, I said something that I regret, which has cost me the opportunity to finish out my dream at Iowa State,” Grill stated.

The Iowa State basketball team issued a press release on Wednesday detailing the roster update. Grill would no longer be a Cyclone with the only reason provided being his “failure to meet the program’s expectations.”

Otzelberger reiterated those expectations. As a leader of the team, Grill had to be held to higher standards, and in the end, he didn’t meet those standards.

“It’s really important as a leader of this program that the decisions that we make every single day, always, are in the best interest of our program,” Otzelberger said. “As much as I want a certain individual, like Caleb, to be successful.”

It was tough for the team to see Grill go, as he brought life to the team from beyond the arc. Although Grill had been dealing with injury in recent games, there were still sparks of greatness in his game.

Otzelberger constantly preached the daily habits the team needed to have in order to be successful. It’s not clear if Grill didn’t follow those daily habits, but the importance of them was expressed by Otzelberger.

“What I can say is that all those daily habits that we talk about and things that are important in our program, we’ve gotta make sure that those are intact every single day,” Otzelberger said

The real reason for Grill’s dismissal may never be known, as only speculations have come out so far. When it comes down to it, Otzelberger made a decision for the good of the team and that’s all there was to it.

“My heart goes out to him and his family with everything that’s going on,” Jaren Holmes said. “But I just don’t really have much to say on it. It’s not really my place.”

Grill talked about mental health in his written statement and how he fought hard on and off the court. The Iowa State basketball team meant the world to Grill, so it was worth the hardships.

Mental health has been a big topic of conversation in the college sports world. Handling the workload of playing a sport at a high level and attending regular classes can be a big strain to put on a young adult.

“It’s a tough world being a student-athlete, you know just balancing all that,” Osun Osunniyi said. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

Because of the role mental health could have played in Grill’s dismissal from the team, Otzelberger made it clear that there are resources for athletes dealing with similar problems. Otzelberger said that a big goal of the program is the mental health of all athletes.

In Grill’s case, Otzelberger made sure he was a support system for Grill. At the end of the day, Grill is no longer on the team, but that doesn’t mean the friends he made in the program will turn their backs on him.

There’s no way of telling what went on behind the scenes, but Otzelberger was there from the start and wants to be there in the future.

“I’m always gonna be there for Caleb,” Otzelberger said. “I’m always gonna support him and continue to support him.”