Conference Basketball Coaching Change Could be Game Changer

He’s a new head coach. He was an assistant coach for a power 5 program and he was a good recruiter. Sound like Rodney Billups? I’m talking about the new coach of South Dakota State University – TJ Otzelberger.

Recently, Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio moved on their recent head coach opening and hired head coach Scott Nagy from the Summit League basketball heavyweight, South Dakota State University. Nagy has been the coaching gold-standard in the Summit League by winning three of the last five league championships, including this year when he was 26-8. The 12th seeded SDSU Jackrabbits fell to number 5 Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this March. Nagy, 49, had a solid 20-year record at SDSU of 404-239 (.631). He took the Jackrabbits from Division II to Division I and had a winning record his first season in DI.

It’s unclear why Nagy would go to Wright State to replace Billy Donlon who went 109-93 including 22-12 this year and made the Horizon League finals three out of the last four years before he got axed. The Horizon League has some good teams such as Valparaiso, Greenbay, Milwaukee, and Oakland but they are, nonetheless, a 1-bid conference like the Summit. This hardly seems like anything more than a horizontal move for Nagy as he moves from a conference he dominated to a deeper conference with still only one NCAA qualifier.

Leading up to the NCAA playoff against Maryland, Nagy told The Baltimore Sun,  “I do think it’s hard for coaches to stay at a place too long because even if you’re successful you can make only so many friends,” he said. “I’ve heard my dad would say, ‘You need to get out of there because you’re going to do nothing but make enemies.’”

The most interesting aspect to Nagy’s longevity at South Dakota State is that he has never had more than a one-year contract, which is in accordance with state law regarding state employees. SDSU fan blogs speculate that money was the issue ($225k/yr. SDSU base vs. $360k/yr. salary at Wright State). Wright State can also offer multi-year contracts. With five children, money and job security may have been the major deciding factor. Or, maybe it was spending the winters in Brookings, South Dakota. Either way,  SDSU lost the Summit League’s best coach.

Nagy’s replacement is TJ Otzelberger, a first-time head coach who was an assistant under four different head coaches – most recently at Iowa State under Fred Hoiberg. He is also known as a good recruiter. His profile is similar to Rodney Billups.

This move opens up the Summit to either the ‘next’ dominant program or perhaps a host of teams will vie for the top spot over the next few years. IUPUI is the likely successor with a fertile recruiting ground in Indiana, a solid head coach, and a solid core of players. And don’t count Otzelberger and SDSU out even though they lost 7 players this year  – Brad Berry, University of North Dakota hockey head coach, showed us what first-year coaches can do, albeit with a deep, talented roster.