American basketball coach Flip Saunders passed away Sunday from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he was sixty years old. He is best known for coaching the NBA (National Basketball Association) clubs the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards. Prior to joining the NBA, Saunders coached in college for Golden Valley Lutheran College and in the CBA (Continental Basketball Association). At the time of his death, he returned to the Timberwolves but his cancer diagnosis in August forced him to relinquish daily basketball duties to his assistant coach Sam Mitchell whilst recovering from cancer treatment.
Born Philip Daniel Saunders on February 23, 1955 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a high school student, he was an All-State basketball player for Cuyahoga Heights High School by averaging thirty-two points a game. Saunders attended the University of Minnesota and played on a team that featured future NBA stars Kevin McHale, Mychal Thompson and Ray Williams. He decided on a career as a basketball coach whilst in college so after graduation he was hired by Golden Valley Lutheran College as the head coach where he guided the team to a 92-13 record during his four year tenure.
Flip Saunders moved on and was an assistant coach for the University of Minnesota and Tulsa before making the jump to the professional ranks as a head coach in the CBA. His first club was the Rapid City Thrillers where he helmed the team for a season before moving on to the La Crosse Catbirds where he led them to two CBA Championships as General Manager/Head Coach and Team President. Saunders would coach the Sioux Falls Skyforce for a season before heading off to the NBA. Former Golden Gopher teammate and General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves Kevin McHale would hire him in hope of turning around his franchise.
Flip Saunders would remain with the Timberwolves from 1995 to 2005, leading the fledgling club to its greatest run. Led by power forward/center Kevin Garnett, they would make eight straight playoff appearances and was the winningest coach in team history before he was fired mid-way through the 2004-2005 season. He was unemployed for long as the Detroit Pistons hired him to replace Larry Brown where he led them to three straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances before being fired at the end of the 2008 season. Saunders would end up as the skipper of the Washington Wizards in 2009 and would only last a few seasons before he was dismissed for the team’s poor performance.
After spending some time off the court and in the Boston Celtics front office for a couple of years, the Minnesota Timberwolves would come back a calling where he would become the club’s head coach for the 2014-2015 season. Whilst preparing for the upcoming season, Flip Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August and took time off to fight the disease. Sadly he lost the fight on October 25, 2015. He is survived by his wife Debbie and their four children.
For more information about Flip Saunders please visit these sites Wikipedia, NBA, ESPN and USA Today