This morning, new Iowa State men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger was officially introduced for the position by Jamie Pollard in a virtual press conference. It premiered on Cyclones.tv, so I’ll link the presser as soon as it’s available on YouTube.
Jamie opened the presser with a ringing endorsement of Otz, saying he’s never seen an assistant more connected to the university than T.J. He also mentioned that Dan McCarney, Fred Hoiberg, Jon Reader, and others all reached out to Jamie to endorse Otz.
Once T.J. took the mic, the theme of the day was instantly recognizable: TJ is home, and is ready to hit the ground running.
Understandably, Cyclone fans were impatient, even a bit neurotic, about this coaching search, digging high and low for every possible candidate. However, among a crowded list of names, including Dana Altman, John Beilein, Darian DeVries, and dozens of others, Otz’s named continued to stand out of the crowd as the most likely choice.
Retrospectively, it was almost painfully obvious that he was going to be Jamie Pollard’s first choice. He’s spent nearly half his coaching career at Iowa State, his wife was a star under Bill Fennelly, he’s well-known to be a top-tier recruiter, and much of his strategic philosophy is derived from Fred Hoiberg. Not only that, but he nearly got the job the first time around.
From the beginning of this very short coaching search, a better fit for the job never appeared, including The Mayor himself. Jamie even confirmed that sentiment, mentioning in the press conference that Otz was the only candidate that President Wintersteen formally interviewed.
So now that we’ve hired the obvious choice, what’s the path forward? The first task will be on the recruiting trail, specifically securing the commitments of the 2021 recruiting class, especially Tyrese Hunter. Otz confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Tyrese this afternoon.
Beyond that, it’ll be working on the 2022 class and likely perusing the transfer portal over the next couple of weeks to look for pieces to help retool a roster in need of virtually anything you can think of.
Here is where one of T.J.’s advantages over the other candidates kicks in: his familiarity with the school. “As we move through the weekend and we’re making recruiting calls, I don’t have to learn anything. I don’t have to talk from a script. I can speak from the heart. I’ve lived it.”
Being so intimately familiar with the school can only manifest as an advantage over any other possible hire. He can actually sell the prospect of Hilton Magic because he’s felt those soundwaves rattle his bones on the sidelines after someone hits a big three against Kansas.
But bringing back that Magic is really the overarching goal for everyone involved. When Hilton Coliseum that’s been emptied by a global pandemic doesn’t feel terribly different than it did the season before when the team struggled and fans actually had the opportunity to cheer in person, you have a problem.
Dwindling fan support likely was a major factor in the decision to move on from Prohm, and a potential ground-swell of the same support via the hire of Otz was likely one of the many factors that made Otz the best, and only, choice.
But if you’re one of those fans that tuned out sometime this past season, or maybe wasn’t totally on-board with T.J. initially (admittedly, I was one of them), I would wager that your opinion will likely shift after you watch the opening press conference.
It’s just a press conference, and Otz has a mountain of obstacles to return Iowa State to the upper echelons of the Big 12, but step one in the process was always going to be getting the Cyclone faithful back on board (an ironic, but true statement).
In his first moments as the coach of the men’s basketball team at the university that defines so much of his personal and professional life, T.J. Otzelberger said all the right things and surely got his tenure off on the right foot.
It’s nice to be hopeful about Cyclone men’s basketball again.