Much has changed since Steve Clifford was fired from his role as Charlotte Hornets head coach in the spring of 2018.
What’s happening: The Hornets announced they’re bringing him back as head coach after firing James Borrego in April.
Why it matters: Clifford was the last coach to take them to the playoffs in 2015-16.
- Charlotte loves a winner, and while the Hornets did have their first winning season since 2015-16 last season, they’re in a playoff drought.
Context: Clifford coached the Hornets from 2013-2018. He’s 12 wins away from becoming their winningest coach in franchise history.
What he’s saying: “I’ve only been here about 24 hours,” Clifford told me during his introductory press conference when I asked what he’d noticed about changes in Charlotte since he last lived here.
- “The Dunkin’ Donuts still opens at 5:30am down by the Vue [in Uptown],” Clifford said with a smile.
Here are 8 things that changed during Clifford’s time away:
1. Charlotte was smaller
The population grew from 841,611 in 2018 to around 879,709, per the United States Census Bureau.
2. The Hornets will play at Spectrum Center through 2045
Charlotte City Council voted 9-1 to approve $215 million in renovations for Spectrum Center on June 13. The proposal included a lease extension for the Hornets.
3. The Hornets have LaMelo Ball
- “He’s a great talent with a passion for the game,” Clifford said of Ball.
4. Several beloved Charlotte restaurants were still open
5. The Grand Bohemian Hotel wasn’t open
“The Grand Bohemian is new,” Clifford said which elicited a laugh from the crowd during his press conference.
- The Uptown hotel opened in 2020.
6. Charlotte FC didn’t exist
Charlotte was about a year and a half away from getting a Major League Soccer franchise.
7. David Tepper didn’t own the Carolina Panthers
Tepper bought the Panthers a few months after Clifford and the Hornets parted ways.
- Plus Cam Newton was still the quarterback and Ron Rivera was still the head coach.
8. American Legion Memorial Stadium was still in disrepair
Mecklenburg County wouldn’t begin a $40.5 million renovation project on the historic stadium in Elizabeth, which was originally dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, until 2019.
Between the lines: Some things have stayed the same, like his friendship with Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak.
- Kupchak and Clifford went out to dinner a few nights after the Hornets let Clifford go in 2018, and Clifford offered Kupchak his home in Uptown since Kupchak didn’t have a permanent place to stay.
- “I was afraid that he might ask for his apartment back,” Kupchak said with a laugh about bringing Clifford back.
The bottom line: We live in a world where both Clifford and Newton can return to their respective teams in Charlotte. Perhaps Clifford will have more success his second time around.