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What's Up, Doc?

Look for this and many other side-splitters if Doc Sadler is hired as Iowa State's new assistant coach.

Jamie Squire

So, it appears like Doc Sadler will be taking over the assistant coaching position vacated by TJ Otzelberger earlier this month. This isn't fact; it's still speculation at this point. But the hire would make a lot of sense for several reasons, and Sadler has all the qualifications one would want in an assistant head coach at Iowa State: Prior head coaching experience, Big 12 experience, Texas recruiting ties and a close relationship with Fred Hoiberg.

But there's no guarantee that Hoiberg has found his man in Sadler. And even if Doc is the new assistant, this hire is unlikely to happen soon; the process could drag out for a month or so. Still, all signs are pointing in Sadler's direction. So let's take a look at why Doc Sadler would be an excellent hire for Iowa State's vacant assistant coaching position.


Doc Sadler has held two Division I head coaching jobs, at UTEP from 2004-2006 and at Nebraska from 2006-2012. Cyclone fans are obviously familiar with Sadler from his time at Nebraska, when Sadler's teams would regularly embarrass Iowa State in Lincoln while ISU was mired in the depths of the McDermott years. Sadler's wins didn't weren't attributable to the outstanding talent Sadler amassed while in Lincoln, McDermott's teams arguably had more talent on the floor during those year. Doc Sadler just outcoached Greg McDermott.

Now, Sadler's Division I record of 149-107 initially doesn't sound all that great. But remember, 3/4 of that time was spent in the basketball wasteland of Lincoln, Nebraska, toiling away in front of sparse crowds who likely had to be bribed through the door with promises of free Runza and hearty, broad-shouldered farm lasses. Sadler's three NIT appearances in six years at Nebraska are a minor miracle; the Huskers had only been to the NIT three times in the previous decade before Doc Sadler took charge of the program.

But don't think that Doc Sadler is some kind of genius-coaching-savant. He's not. He's a good coach who did the best he could at a bad program in a difficult league. But he does have over 30 years of experience coaching college basketball, eight years as a Division I head coach. That kind of experience could be extremely valuable to a young coach like Fred Hoiberg.

Speaking of experience, that brings us to:


Having an assistant head coach with Big 12 experience isn't mandatory at Iowa State; Bobby Lutz had no such experience when he stepped into the role in Fred Hoiberg's first year and he did alright for himself. But Big 12 experience can prove extremely helpful, and Doc Sadler has exactly that experience. In his six years at Nebraska (five while NU was still in the Big 12), Sadler learned the habits of other teams in the Big 12. He coached and game-planned against four of the nine current coaches in the Big 12. Now, the conference has changed quite a bit since Doc roamed the sidelines in Lincoln, but an assistant who knows his way around the league takes away a bit of the learning curve of hiring a new coach.

And currently, Sadler is serving as the Director of Basketball Operations at Kansas. This is a non-coaching, non-recruiting role, but it's still a window into the past and current kings of the Big 12. It's not like Sadler is going to come to Iowa State and immediately hand over Bill Self's playbook and recruiting contacts, but any insight into the machinations within Phog Allen could prove valuable for the Cyclones.


The Big 12 has been a Texas-centric conference for the past decade or so. This is readily apparent in football, where a huge number of Division I prospects emerge from each year. But with the Big 12's reduced numbers in recent years, the fact that 40% of conference members exist within the state of Texas makes having ties to the state more and more important in basketball as well.

Because the state of Texas produces a lot of elite basketball talent. Since 1998, Texas has turned out the second-most top-100 recruits by state, the second-most top-50 recruits and the third-most top-10 recruits in the nation. The only state that has produced more elite talent in the last 15 years is California, TJ Otzelberger's old recruiting grounds. Now that Otzelberger is no longer on staff, Iowa State needs to find an assistant with ties to a state that produces a lot of elite talent.

And Texas is a strange place, where residents have a lot of pride mixed with a little mistrust of outsiders. Having an assistant on staff that's lived and coached in Texas, both as an assistant and head coach can open a lot of doors. Currently, Fred Hoiberg's staff includes Cornell Mann, who focuses on Michigan and the upper-Midwest and Matt Abdelmassih, who focuses on New York and the Northeast. Doc Sadler's connections in Texas could lead to some good recruits, covering the loss of TJ Otzelberger's recruiting prowess.


The Cyclones are a great offensive team. Seriously, last year Iowa State ranked second in the country in points-per-game, 15th in offensive efficiency and first in three-pointers made per game. Pretty awesome, right? What they aren't is a good defensive team (158th in the country in defensive efficiency, 149th in effective FG percentage). Not nearly as awesome.

Enter Doc Sadler. The knock on Sadler as a coach is that his Nebraska teams play a slow-it-down, use-the-entire-shot-clock offense. This is absolutely true; Sadler's teams were regularly among the slowest in the country. But Sadler's Cornhusker teams also played some fairly nasty defense. Take a look at Nebraska's defensive rankings by year:

Year Defensive Eff. Opp. PPG
'06-'07 139 77
'07-'08 22 17
'08-'09 32 20
'09-'10 150 92
'10-'11 11 13
'11-'12 263 115

These aren't eye-popping numbers, and as mentioned above, they owe a lot to Sadler's style of play at Nebraska. If a team is running down the shot clock on every offensive possession, that's going to shorten the game by limiting the number of offensive possessions for both teams.

But just like Iowa State doesn't need a genius game-planner as an assistant, the Cyclones also don't need a defensive wizard to come in and retrain them in the game. Iowa State needs a coach with a defensive mentality to come in and provide a nice supplement to ISU's offensive firepower. Doc Sadler could be that guy.


Finally, this is probably the most important aspect of any hire; does the new assistant get along with the head coach? Good working relationships are key to any partnership, and especially important in a workplace where the staff is putting in 80-hour work weeks under extremely stressful conditions.

By all reports, Fred Hoiberg and Doc Sadler are close, or at least friends. Again, a good prior working relationship can help ease the transition for a new assistant coach. And Sadler's coached in Lincoln and Lawrence, two similar communities to Ames. A charismatic, genial guy like Sadler should fit in well in the friendly, close-knit culture at Iowa State.

So will Doc Sadler be the Cyclone's new assistant coach? Probably, but not definitely. Would he be an excellent hire no matter what? Absolutely.