T.J. Otzelberger was officially introduced Thursday as UNLV’s men’s basketball coach and he promised to return the “Runnin’” in the Runnin’ Rebels.
Otzelberger, 41, accepted the UNLV job after a three-year stint as South Dakota State’s head coach. His contract is for five years and at $1.1 million for the first year, eventually escalating to $1.5 million in Year Five. There is also a buyout clause should Otzelberger decide to leave. It cost him $350,000 to buy out his contract at South Dakota State.
Otzelberger went 70-33 with the Jackrabbits and was 35-11 in the Summit League, winning the regular season title twice and two conference tournament championships. He replaces Marvin Menzies, who was fired on March 15 after three years as UNLV’s coach.
“We will get the magic from 1990 back playing an up-tempo, fun style,” Otzelberger said at his news conference on campus. “We’ll play tenacious defense and win every 50-50 ball.”
Desiree Reed-Francois, UNLV’s athletic director who oversaw the search that ultimately led to Otzelberger’s hire, said: “He’s a players’ coach, a winner and a family man.”
“I want to thank Marvin for laying a foundation for a successful program.”
Otzelberger inherits a program which finished tied for fourth place in the Mountain West and was 17-11 overall. But he faces an immediate challenge in upgrading the current roster. At least five and as many as seven players are putting their names in the NCAA’s transfer portal and Otzelberger will have to move quickly to sign players and convince those seeking to transer to reconsider.
“We need to re-recruit these young players to our program,” he said. “Desiree is committed to excellence and in the weeks ahead, I’ll shake every hand, take every selfie and visit every dorm.”
Otzelberger reached out to another former UNLV coach – Lon Kruger, currently at Oklahoma – for advice on both UNLV and living in Las Vegas.
“I was fortunate to befriend Coach Kruger and I hold him in high regard,” Otzelberger said. “He gave me some valuable advice the last few days.”
Otzelberger had worked at Iowa State and Washington as an assistant coach before getting the head coaching job at South Dakota State. He developed a reputation for being a strong recruiter and and was a proponent of shooting 3-point shots and playing fast. The Jackrabbits were one of the nation’s top teams in offensive efficiency, ranking third in scoring offense at 84.5 points per game in producing a 24-9 record this past season.
Perhaps a bit of insight as to what fans can expect from Otzelberger is that he arrived for his news conference by helicopter as opposed to driving to campus and fighting the Las Vegas traffic.
He also made it clear he was aware of UNLV’s in-state battle with Nevada. In his remarks, Otzelberger referred to the Wolf Pack as “UNR.” That will no doubt irk the Nevada fan base.
Otzelberger said it was not an easy decision to leave South Dakota. But he and his family are excited about what lies ahead at UNLV.
“I will always root for the Jackrabbits but I’m a Rebel now,” he said.
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