If first impressions mean anything, the Charlotte Bobcats may have found the right guy to lead them into the future after officially announcing Wednesday afternoon that Steve Clifford has been hired as the organization’s sixth head coach.
Clifford brings a wealth of NBA coaching experience to the Queen City even though this will be his first shot at running a team. He lacked the kind of deer in the headlight look you might see with first timers and answered questions from the press with conviction and without hesitation.
Right from the beginning of the press conference at the Time Warner Cable Arena you could sense that Clifford had the right temperament for the job without the usual highs and lows that come with being asked about a team in turmoil. After thanking the usual people at events like these, the new guy got right to the point.
“It’s the ultimate challenge to be an NBA coach,” he said. “I had the opportunity last week to come here and spend a good amount of time with (President of Basketball Operations) Rod (Higgins) and (General Manager) Rich (Cho) and I left excited about the possibility more than anything else because we spoke in a broad sense philosophically and then in a more structured way about practice structure, player development and specifics about the roster and the three of us were on the same page, with a similar vision.”
This is not going to be an easy task for Clifford who is taking over a team that has won just 28 games over the last two seasons (28-120) and has some very nice pieces on the roster to begin turning things around. First and foremost it will be the culture, most of losing, but other things associated with the Bobcats brand since the team reentered the league.
The announcement was made President of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins who would not elaborate on how many people the team interviewed except to say that they were comfortable with letting Mike Dunlap go after one season and start anew.
“Any time you make the tough decision to change you want to, if at all possible, address some of the things you possibly didn’t get from the year prior in this case. We felt very good bringing in Steve to adhere to some of the issues we might have had whether it’s on the court, in the locker room or just trying to compete every night. I think we are getting very close to being very good team and I am excited about the process of bringing in Steve,”
In a pre-release before the press conference, the media was given a handout with the announcement and Higgins said, “We are excited to have Steve Clifford as our new head coach. He brings a strong pedigree and a track record of success to our franchise. He has built a reputation as an innovator, especially defensively, and has experience in multiple systems. We look forward to utilizing his knowledge as we continue to build this team.”
Clifford simplified his philosophy thusly.
“I think every coach in basketball has his own priorities in terms of judging players, but for me it starts with competitiveness and then skill level, in particular shooting. Coach (Bill) Parcells once said he wanted guys who are competitive on their own without the aid of coaches and in this league when you’re playing four and five nights a week there aren’t many times you can address the group and have some magic word to get them to play hard. You either have the right kind of guys or you don’t.”
The new boss said the preseason is now for the players on the roster pretty much laying down a challenge to everyone to show up for camps ready to go. When asked what fans can expect next year his first reaction was, “I’m not going to run away from that question but I’m glad you said it. We have a whole summer of draft, free agency and all that.”
Clifford, Higgins or Cho would get into any speculation about who would be joining the team as assistant coaches, but it all came back around to the culture around the TWC Arena.
“I think the culture starts around the head coach and the team leaders,” said Clifford. “They’re going to set the tone every day in practice and set the tone for the intensity every night you play. Then the third component, which is critical, is the staff. I want a working staff. You need a balanced staff, have chemistry and a working staff, but now it would be premature to talk about it.”
There was no reaction from Higgins or Cho about the necessity to get a new coach hired so soon after the major announcement of the rebranding of the franchise back to the Hornets. It is it purely coincidental, they say, however, there was talk around the league that Clifford had become a hot commodity for some teams looking to fill the same void.
From the release, here is a bio on the new man on the Bobcats bench:
Clifford brings 28 years of coaching experience to the Bobcats. Last season, he served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, after spending the previous five seasons as an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic. As a member of Stan Van Gundy’s staff, he helped the Magic to a 259-135 record (.657) and five straight playoff appearances, including a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals.
Before going to Orlando, Clifford spent four seasons with the Houston Rockets as an assistant coach to Jeff Van Gundy from 2003-07. He entered the NBA with the New York Knicks, serving as the team’s advance scout in 2000-01 and as an assistant coach from 2001-03. Dating back to his time in Houston, Clifford’s teams have made the playoffs in nine of the last 10 seasons.
Prior to the NBA, Clifford spent 15 years coaching at the collegiate level, including four years as head coach at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. Clifford posted a record of 86-36 (.705) at Adelphi, leading the school to four straight 20-win seasons and four straight appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament. His winning percentage remains the second best of the 12 head coaches in the program’s 65-year history.
Clifford began his college coaching career at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire, where he spent four seasons as an assistant coach. He then spent one year at Fairfield University, four seasons at Boston University and one season at Siena University before becoming the head coach at Adelphi from 1995-99. Clifford also spent one season as an assistant coach at East Carolina University in 1999-2000 before moving to the NBA.