Photo Credit: Terrance Quaites - Franchise Sports Media

WWJD 34: UNLV Basketball- T.J. Otzelberger Heads To Iowa State



The worst kept seceret over the past 48 hours finally became official on Thursday morning. UNLV head basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger left the Runnin’ Rebels to take the same position at Iowa State.


In a statement released by UNLV on Thursday morning, it read:

Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois confirmed Thursday that T.J. Otzelberger has resigned as head coach of the UNLV men’s basketball program to accept the head coach position at Iowa State. Otzelberger returns to Ames, where he has spent eight years as an assistant coach.

When our coaches are being pursued by others, it is a testament to what we are building,” said Reed-Francois. “We appreciate Coach Otzelberger’s contributions to our men’s basketball program and we wish T.J. and his family all the best as they continue their journey.

Otzelberger spent eight years with the Cyclones where he met his wife, Alison, the highest WNBA draft pick in Iowa State history. After two seasons at Washington from 2013-15, Otzelberger returned to Iowa State for one season before making his head coaching debut at South Dakota State in 2016.

I want to thank our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and fans for a memorable two years at UNLV and in the Las Vegas community,” Otzelberger said. “I especially want to thank Desiree Reed-Francois for providing me with the incredible honor of leading the Runnin’ Rebels. These decisions are never easy, but Alison and I are excited to return to Iowa State where we started our family and spent so many formative years.”

In Otzelberger’s two years with the Runnin’ Rebels, UNLV secured strong recruiting classes and during the 2019-20 campaign, he guided the team to a tie for second place in the Mountain West, marking the program’s best league finish in 12 years.

The men’s basketball program also achieved record academic success with Otzelberger at the helm, as the Runnin’ Rebels turned in a semester Grade Point Average of 3.57 for Fall 2020, the program’s highest ever. It marked the third-straight record-setting semester GPA for the team.

A national search for Otzelberger’s replacement will commence immediately.


So what next for UNLV?


Photo Credit: Sports Then and Now

For the 14th time since the late, great Jerry Tarkanian was rooming the Thomas and Mack sidelines; the Runnin’ Rebels will be looking for a new head basketball coach. That is a far cry from when Tark was just the 5th head coach in school history and held the job for 19 years before being pushed out by then UNLV President Robert Maxon. Tarkanian made UNLV a national power and one of the country’s best basketball schools, creating a tradition of winning built on fast-paced basketball and a stifling defense.

Tark built UNLV into the premier program on the West Coast that culminated in a National Title in 1990 with one of the greatest teams in college basketball history. Thomas and Mack was one of the toughest venues for opposing teams to come to play in, and Gucci Row was the hottest ticket in town. Will it ever get back to that? No one knows, and it seems a long way off if possible, but the last 5 seasons are unacceptable for a program that still boasts the NCAA’s 5th best winning percentage (.691).


Photo Credit- Courier Journal

UNLV has to make a splash hire. Reed-Francois can change the direction of the program with the right hire. Per UNLV sources, she will not be using a search firm for her hire, unlike the last time the Runnin’ Rebels job was open. UNLV should not be a “pit-stop” for coaches, and it should be one of the destination jobs in college basketball with some of the best facilities, best arenas, and a smart, passionate fanbase that cares deeply about the program. The Runnin’ Rebels fans deserve that, the players deserve that, and the legacy of Tark deserves that.

While no one knows the potential candidates that Reed-Francois will be targeting, everyone has an opinion on who should be targeted. Here are a few names, in no particular order, that could be on a list as potential hires for UNLV. I will be writing a profile on some of these coaches daily here in Franchise Sports Media with pros and cons to each potential candidate.

  • John Beilein
  • Cuonzo Martin
  • Craig Smith
  • Archie Miller
  • Thad Matta
  • Anthony Grant
  • Steve Lavin
  • Todd Simon
  • Lon Kruger
  • Stacey Augmon
  • Rick Pitino

No one knows what direction Desiree Reed-Francois is going to go, but she has to make a home run hire. The time is now for UNLV to take a shot at greatness, to reclaim it’s glory. If she can bring the right person in to do that, she will be lauded and loved with Thomas and Mack back to being The Shark Tank.


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-Joe Arrigo – Franchise Sports Media

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