After going 196-214 in five seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, head coach Steve Clifford was fired on Friday. In those five seasons, the Hornets went to the playoffs twice and lost to the Miami Heat in the first round both times (swept in 2014, lost in seven in 2016). The last two seasons of Clifford’s tenure both ended with the team going 36-46 despite having a positive point differential in both seasons. In the end, it was an up and down tenure in Charlotte for Steve Clifford, who is still respected among the NBA coaching brass. However, the search for the next Charlotte Hornets head coach is now underway. Here are a few of the current known candidates:
Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Sunday that the Hornets got permission from the San Antonio Spurs to interview top assistant Ettore Messina. We profiled Messina yesterday, but to be brief, the 58-year-old Italian has been part of Gregg Popovich’s staff since 2014. In addition to that, he has been the head coach for many great European clubs such as Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow. In his time coaching in Europe, Messina won four EuroLeague titles along with a number of other league titles in Italy and Russia. In 2011, he was an assistant under Mike Brown with the Los Angeles Lakers while new General Manager Mitch Kupchak was still at the helm.
Another potential candidate for the Hornets is Jerry Stackhouse. His connection is that he, like owner Michael Jordan and Kupchak, went to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and starred on their basketball team. Stackhouse is an 18-year NBA veteran and was a two time All-Star while playing for the Detroit Pistons. In one of those seasons, Stackhouse averaged nearly 30 points per game. As a coach, he led the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, to the G League championship series in each of his two seasons at the helm. Last season, he coached them to the G-League title and this season they got back to the finals, but they were upended by the Austin Spurs.
Stackhouse will reportedly interview for the Hornets job and for the vacant Orlando Magic position.
After being fired earlier in the season, David Fizdale could find himself back in the head coaching ranks. The former Miami Heat assistant was a key part of the big three era there, winning back to back titles in 2012 and 2013. He became the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016 and led them to the playoffs in his only full season with the team. A 7-12 start to this season led to his firing and he went 50-51 over his time with Memphis. However, the decision by the Grizzlies was questionable in the eyes of many. Despite that, Fizdale will get a chance to interview for many teams and is one of the favorites for the Hornets job.
Overall, these three candidates have very good qualities and the Hornets should be intrigued by all of them. However, there are other coaches that have proven themselves to be worthy of other opportunities as a head coach should the Hornets wish to entertain them. Frank Vogel is one of those people. While he didn’t have a good stint in Orlando, he led the Indiana Pacers to the conference finals a couple of times (before running into the freight train that is LeBron James). Other potential candidates include Stephen Silas and Monty Williams, but as is the case with Vogel, neither have been formally linked with the job at this point. In the end, it will be interesting to see which coach is the best fit for the Charlotte Hornets going forward.