Iowa State wasted little time searching for and landing an assistant coach to fill the vacancy on its bench, brining back the familiar T.J. Otzelberger.
The former Iowa State assistant, who spent the last two years as an assistant at Washington, was Fred Hoiberg’s top choice to replace outgoing assistant Matt Abdelmassih, and one call eventually turned into a reunion for Otzelberger and his wife, former Iowa State women’s basketball player Alison Lacy.
“As soon as he reached out, I kind of felt something inside,” Otzelberger said Wednesday. “Obviously there’s a lot of passion I have for Iowa State. We felt like the opportunity to come home and reconnect with all the people we care about so much and have relationships with and being around the school we were both highly invested in for a number of years was an unbelievable opportunity.”
Otzelberger spent seven seasons at Iowa State, first coaching with Greg McDermott before being tabbed to remain as part of Hoiberg’s initial staff. He served as Hoiberg’s associated head coach from 2010 until his departure in 2013.
The idea behind Otzelberger’s departure two springs ago was to diversify his coaching resume in anticipation of one day landing a head coaching position. Otzelberger appeared to be headed in that direction and was set to interview for the head coaching position at Wisconsin-Green Bay later this week.
“If the opportunity to become a head coach presents itself, I want it to be the right opportunity, at the right place, at the right time,” Otzelberger said. “I’ve removed my name from consideration for some other opportunities and feel like we’re fired up to be at Iowa State and locked into it and feel like this opportunity is better than those and fits us more.”
The hire happened quickly for Iowa State after Abdelmassih left to join new St. John’s coach Chris Mullin at his alma mater. Abdelmassih’s departure had been rumored since Millin was hired during the weekend, but Otzelberger’s hire comes less than 24 hours after the move was made official.
Hoiberg immediately reached out to Otzelberger, who will return as an assistant with a to be determined contact. The quick move is with reason, as Iowa State finds itself facing a critical recruiting stretch in the coming weeks with three open scholarships remaining for the 2015-16 season.
In his previous time at Iowa State, Otzelberger was one of Iowa State key recruiters. The 37-year old assistant was influential in the recruitment of Craig Brackins, Diante Garrett, Melvin Ejim, Matt Thomas, Naz Long, Scott Christopherson and Will Clyburn among many others.
“For us, it’s a great hire,” Hoiberg said. “T.J. was a big part in getting a lot of players both from the high school level and also from the transfer route and junior college. He recruits all over the map, not only local kids, but he’s also been good in Canada and has helped get some top level players to Iowa State.”
Hoiberg said the coaches planned to convene in the next 24 hours to put a recruiting game plan together moving forward. The Cyclones are rumored to be closing in on a number of transfer possibilities and have entered the critical stretch of five-star recruit Chieck Diallo, who is expected to make a decision later this month.
Just as quickly as the job came together, Otzelberger is immediately jumping into the recruiting picture.
“You know, we’re kind of already in that spot right now,” Otzelberger said. “We’re full steam ahead right now for Iowa State. It’s going to be one of those things over the coming weeks that I want to make sure I do the best job possible of tying everything up at Washington and then we’re moving forward.”
Otzelberger’s next step will be at Iowa State as his career progresses.
“Although I aspire to be a head coach at some point, I’m not at a point where it has to be tomorrow,” Otzelberger said. “I feel like this is where I want to be, and that experience [at Washington] has helped show me that more.”