Faced with a program that has missed six consecutive NCAA tournaments, UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois selected T.J. Otzelberger as the next head coach of the Runnin’ Rebels at the end of March. The 41-year-old Otzelberger arrives in Las Vegas having coached South Dakota State to two appearances in the field of 68 and a 70-33 record in three seasons.
Hiring a head coach out of a mid-major conference is, naturally, a fairly common strategy for an underperforming program. In fact, Otzelberger’s predecessor in Vegas, Marvin Menzies, took the job after he had led New Mexico State to five NCAA tournaments in nine seasons.
Menzies, however, isn’t the only available precedent. After all, three years ago, UNLV thought it had just hired Chris Beard after his one and only season at Little Rock. But Beard had second thoughts, and he ended up at Texas Tech instead.
We should also mention Craig Smith, who made a rather impressive debut last season at fellow Mountain West foe Utah State. Prior to taking the helm in Logan, Smith recorded a four-year stint at South Dakota.
Which of these career arcs will best describe Otzelberger’s trajectory one, two or three years from now? Here’s what we think we know in the spring of 2019 about the new coach and his new team.
A recruiter looking to restart a once-potent talent pipeline
Like many first-time Division I head coaches before him, Otzelberger got his shot at SDSU in 2016 based in part on a reputation he built as a strong recruiter while serving as a major-conference assistant. In Otzelberger’s case, those previous stops were at Iowa State and Washington.