Updated March 16, 2021 - 7:14 pm
The revolving door that is the UNLV basketball coaching position continues to spin.
T.J. Otzelberger is leaving the Rebels after just two years on the job to accept the same position at Iowa State, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation.
UNLV’s once-proud program, now 31 seasons past its national championship, is looking for its sixth head coach in 10 years and 14th since Jerry Tarkanian’s exit in 1992. The Rebels haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Nothing has been finalized, but two people familiar with the details characterized the coach’s departure as a “done deal,” barring a change at the eleventh hour. Otzelberger and UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois could not be reached for comment.
Otzelberger was twice an assistant at Iowa State, totaling eight years with the program under Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm. He’s remained friends with Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard, who announced Monday night that the school fired Prohm after a 2-22 campaign that included an 0-18 record in Big 12 play.
Pollard said in a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Iowa State’s athletic department that he anticipated the coaching search would go “pretty quickly,” citing a responsibility to recruits and transfers.
“The best person (for this job) doesn’t mean just because somebody can win at another program, that they can win at Iowa State,” Pollard said. “We’ve got to get the right person to be the head coach at Iowa State.”
Pollard also said the program is going to have to be “very creative financially” in order to accommodate a new coach. Otzelberger’s buyout is believed to be around $3 million.
UNLV hired Otzelberger in 2019 to replace Marvin Menzies, and he’s guided the Rebels to a 29-30 record in two seasons on the job — including an 12-15 mark this season. He was previously the head coach at South Dakota State, where he went 70-33 and reached two NCAA tournaments in three seasons.
Otzelberger’s wife, Alison, was a star basketball player at Iowa State.
UNLV was in a promising position when Otzelberger took over, having improved its Mountain West record in each of the two previous years under Menzies. Otzelberger turned the roster over during his first year on the job, losing Joel Ntambwe, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Shakur Juiston and Trey Woodbury to the transfer portal.
The Rebels under Otzelberger added transfers Donnie Tillman, Elijah Mitrou-Long and Jonah Antonio to a core that included Bryce Hamilton and Amauri Hardy and finished 17-15, including 12-6 in Mountain West play. They fizzled though in the conference tournament, losing 67-61 to Boise State to end their season.
Hardy transferred after the season and UNLV added transfers David Jenkins Jr., Moses Wood, Caleb Grill and highly touted freshman Nick Blake — setting up an encouraging 2020-21 campaign.
But the Rebels struggled to a find a rhythm and staggered to an 8-10 mark in conference play before losing in the second round of the conference tournament. Starting point guard Marvin Coleman missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his right leg, and UNLV did not have a reliable replacement on the roster.
The free-flowing offense Otzelberger employed at South Dakota State didn’t come to fruition with the Rebels.
Otzelberger did sign a talented recruiting class that included former Bishop Gorman point guard Zaon Collins and four-star wing Arthur Kaluma, who prepped in the Phoenix area. But a fatal car crash involving Collins prompted Otzelberger to part ways with the Gaels’ standout in January.
Kaluma is exploring other options, per a person with knowledge of his recruitment. Syracuse, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Texas, Arkansas, Southern California, Texas A&M and Kansas were his other finalists.