Jacks Jump Quick After Otzelberger Exit

“Life moves pretty fast.” – F. Bueller

Not all the time, of course. A lot of the time life is dull and slow. But when it comes to coaching changes – especially in college basketball – stuff often happens in a hurry.

South Dakota State lost their guy to another school – and five hours and eight minutes after that announcement was made, SDSU named his replacement. T.J. Otzelberger is now the head coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Eric Henderson succeeds Otz as the head coach for the Jackrabbit men's basketball team.

The rumors are (almost) always true, and they started flying Tuesday afternoon. Within 24 hours, Otzelberger was officially the man at UNLV and Henderson was the hire at SDSU. But there was, of course, plenty going on before then.

“By the time it hits social media there is a lot that has been done,” says Rob Klinkefus, who was an assistant coach under Otzelberger, and who was promoted to associate head coach alongside Henderson. “It happens fast, and quite honestly, it happens behind closed doors."

He says it is fair to say things were in motion two or three days before word got out.

“The whole social media aspect has really changed the transparency," Klinkefus said. "It has changed because people are always digging for information, and they want something all the time and they want to be able to give people nuggets and things like that. So much of this happens behind closed doors and people (coaches, administrators) just don’t talk about it anymore. So when it happens, it happens fast. I’m not saying we didn’t have an idea that there were some things going on with TJ. And fortunately for us, Justin (Sell) was able to move quickly and give us a chance to get in front of our guys and our recruits right away and put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.”

Henderson is on the road on Thursday, presumably to see recruits face to face and assure them that the Jackrabbit program is in good hands. 

I asked Klinkefus if Henderson was in Wichita to visit high-profile commit Caleb Grill, and all he could (or would) say is “Maybe.”

But Obvious Job Number One right now for Henderson and Klinkefus is to keep the roster intact as much as possible and re-secure recruiting commitments. As Klinkefus puts it, guys want to know who is going to coach them – and coaches want to know who’s going to be there.

“We’ve been in touch with all of them,” he said. “We feel good about our roster and the kids we’ve got committed. There is always a process when there is change at the head coaching position. You have to work through some things, and we are doing that as we speak. Will there be some challenges? Yep. There always is. Will we have to recruit them again? Yep. That’s how this business works, and things change. But we are willing to do all that, and we’re going to attack it.”

The social media rumor mill is cranking hard concerning Jackrabbit junior-to-be David Jenkins, Jr., and SDSU fans are understandably worried that Jenkins will leave Brookings and follow Otzelberger to Las Vegas. Midco Sports Network’s Elaina Lanson asked Jenkins for comment on Thursday morning. “He says he is on the (SDSU) team and has made no decision to leave,” she said.

Such is the fallout when a coach moves on. A young man at 20 like Jenkins has to make a life-changing decision. A younger man like Caleb Grill has to do the same.

Eric Henderson has a huge new opportunity along with a huge new set of challenges. Rob Klinkefus has to wait again for the chance to be a head coach – not that he is complaining.

“I’ve tried to step back and really be grateful for what you have instead of what you don’t have,” saidKlink, who will be in his 14th year with the Jackrabbits. “I don’t think it’s any secret that I love it at South Dakota State and have a lot of passion for our basketball program and the kids in it and the people around it and our university and our state. So is there disappointment? I don’t know if that’s the right word for it. But at some point everybody in my shoes that is an assistant basketball coach has aspirations of being a head coach. Those days are coming. But I can tell you that I am very excited to work with Coach Henderson and keep trying to move this program forward. There has been a lot of success here, and we don’t anticipate seeing that change.”

Notes on new SDSU head coach Eric Henderson:

  • From: Coggon, Iowa
  • College: Wayne State (NE)  Player from 1997-2000   
  • NSIC All-Tournament Team in 2000
  • Hall of Fame inductee in 2008
  • Coaching history:
    • Assistant at Wayne State, 2001-2003
    • Graduate Manager/Academic Specialist at Iowa State, 2006-2009
    • Head Coach/AD at Burlington Catholic (Wis), 2009-2014
    • Assistant Coach at North Dakota State, 2014-16
    • Assistant Coach/Associate Head Coach at South Dakota State, 2017-2019

Notes on UNLV, where T.J. Otzelberger takes over as head coach:

  • Last NCAA Tournament appearance: 2013
  • Last NCAA Tournament win: 2008
  • The Runnin’ Rebels won the National Championship in 1990 as members of the Big West Conference
  • UNLV was in the WAC from 1996-97 and joined their current conference, the Mountain West, in 1999. The Mountain West Conference includes:
    • Nevada (coached by former Rapid City Thrillers coach Eric Musselman)
    • Utah State (coached by former South Dakota coach Craig Smith)
    • San Diego State (coached by former South Dakota State assistant coach Brian Dutcher)

Last 5 Head Coaches at UNLV

Lon Kruger 2005-2011 Now head coach at Oklahoma
Dave Rice 2012-2015  93-48 in four season; two NCAA Tournaments
Todd Simon 2016 19-15; now head coach at Southern Utah
Chris Beard Accepted job, but left for current job at Texas Tech
Marvin Menzies 2017-2019 50-48; fired
Filed Under Basketball | College | MidcoSN News | South Dakota State University