It is almost funny at this point. UNLV can’t produce an NCAA Tournament team, but they are handing over coaches to the Big 12 at an unbelievable pace.
Iowa State fired Steve Prohm on Monday night and the immediate top candidate was T.J. Otzelberger.
But why is Otzelberger, who just wrapped up a 12-15 season at UNLV, a leader to land a power conference job?
The most important reason for Otzelberger’s candidacy at Iowa State is his relationship with Cyclones AD Jamie Pollard. It is a relationship that grew during Otzelberger’s time as an assistant in Ames. And continued after he left, as the Des Moines Register reported that Pollard frequented Otzelberger’s games at South Dakota State.
Plus when Pollard and Iowa State hired Steve Prohm, Otzelberger was one of the finalists interviewing for the job back in 2015.
Otzelberger was an assistant at Iowa State for eight total seasons. He was under Doug McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Prohm (for one season).
That time with Hoiberg is what makes Otzelberger attractive. The Cyclones might be simply chasing better years.
Iowa State went to four straight NCAA Tournaments under Hoiberg (and two more under Prohm) and Otzelberger was credited with being a big part of how those teams were put together.
After he left Iowa State, Otzelberger was incredibly successful at South Dakota State. He won the Summit League regular season or tournament title in all three seasons.
If you throw out the two seasons at UNLV, Otzelberger’s history makes it obvious why he would be leading the way for the Iowa State job.
You almost have to feel bad for UNLV. This program has not even sniffed an NCAA Tournament since 2013, but might lose another coach to the Big 12.
Chris Beard left UNLV the same offseason he was hired and now Otzelberger may leave after two seasons. And both would be taking their “dream jobs”.
UNLV just needs to stop hiring coaches that dream.
Including interim head coach Todd Simon, UNLV has had five head coaches since they last went to the NCAA Tournament. If UNLV has to replace Otzelberger it will be six.
It is hard to imagine UNLV having a successful team anytime soon with that kind of turnover. Nevada lost Eric Musselman to a power conference job. But that was after three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years.
There is a positive spin to Otzelberger’s potential departure: Money!
If Otzelberger leaves this month, he would owe UNLV $3.15 million as a buyout. UNLV only got $1 million for Beard’s brief tenure. (It is a low bar to clear but definitive proof DRF > TKM.)
Since UNLV has already budgeted $4.2 million to pay Otzelberger over the next three seasons, there is reason to dream about the Rebels being able to pay over $2 million per season for the next coach.
Which will obviously just be a small deterrent to Kansas State when they hire away UNLV’s head coach in the next two years.