There’s been a changing of the guard in Brookings.
This season, Summit League powerhouse South Dakota State will be working with a new head coach for the first time in 21 years.
Rookie head coach T.J. Otzelberger was hired in April to replace longtime head coach Scott Nagy, who left for Wright State.
Otzelberger has the complete opposite challenge of fellow Summit League newcomer Rodney Billups. Instead of building a struggling program, South Dakota State is hoping Otzelberger will be able to maintain the level of success the Jackrabbits are used to seeing.
Nagy — who amassed a 410-240 record at SDSU — became a staple in Brookings, not long after taking over the job in 1995. He led the Jackrabbits to the Division II Tournament every season except one between 1995 and 2004 and oversaw the team’s transition to the D-I level starting in 2004.
SDSU started Summit League play in the 2007-08 season and combined for a 10-26 league record in their first two seasons in the conference.
Since then, however, the Jackrabbits have finished every year with a winning record in league play. This includes three regular season conference titles and three conference tournament titles.
All of this success and growth came under the watch of Nagy and now the Jackrabbits will have a new head coach for the first time in their history as a D-I program.
Otzelberger’s only other head coaching stint came at the high school level, but he has seen plenty of success as a college assistant, particularly at Iowa State.
The Cyclones made three trips to the NCAA Tournament during Otzelberger’s time in Aimes, including last season’s Sweet 16 run.
Otzelberger was on the radar as a potential head coach for a few years before getting hired at SDSU. He even reportedly interviewed for the head coaching jobs at Iowa State and UW-Milwaukee, but did not land either of them.
The good news for Otzelberger and the Jackrabbits is that one man alone returns 20 percent of the team’s scoring from last season: sophomore Mike Daum.
The bad news is that 35 percent of last season’s points left with the graduation of Deondre Parks and George Marshall.
Otzelberger will be responsible for developing the talent that Nagy left behind as well as bringing in new talent of his own. This is where Otzelberger’s strength as a recruiter will come in.
He’s even been credited for helping Iowa State land Craig Brackins and Melvin Ejim, among others.
Otzelberger will be bringing in a different level of recruit than he did at Iowa State. Daum, for example, was unrated on virtually all recruiting sites coming out of high school. But his experience with high-level recruiting can only serve to benefit him with the Jackrabbits.
Finding the balance between building on past Jackrabbit success and building his own legacy will be a big part of Otzelberger’s task. Many current Jackrabbit players and likely all future recruits were not born the last time South Dakota State had a coach other than Nagy.
But at 38 years old and with 15 years of coaching experience behind him, there is no question that Otzelberger is prepared to be a head coach.