In some unfortunate news yesterday, it was announced that the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders had passed away. Saunders was originally the head coach at Minnesota from 1995 to 2005. During his first stint with the Timberwolves, he led the team to their first playoff appearance, first winning season and even reached the Western Conference Finals. To this day Saunders is still the only Minnesota head coach to produce a winning season and reach the playoffs at Minnesota.
After a down season, the Timberwolves fired Saunders in favor of Kevin McHale. Saunders wound end up at Detroit for a few seasons, being let go after losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008. His tenure at Washington left a bit to be desired, but he would eventually end up back at Minnesota as the teams President of Basketball Operations. A year later Saunders would also take over the head coaching spot, holding onto the position until this summer when he was forced to temporary step aside when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
It was initially thought (and reported) that Saunders condition was treatable and should be curable, but complications arose in September, leading to his hospitalization. Unfortunately for Saunders, his condition worsened and he ended up passing away this Sunday:
It is with extreme sadness to report that today Phil "Flip" Saunders has passed away at age 60. pic.twitter.com/l8tthTocAt— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) October 25, 2015
Flip's connection to the Big Ten stems from his college days as he was a guard for the Minnesota Gophers during the '70s, playing alongside a loaded roster including Kevin McHale, Mychal Thompson and Ray Williams. He would go on to start 101 of the 103 games he appeared in and the team would go 24-3 during his senior season.
After he finished his playing days he started coaching for several seasons before rejoining the Gophers as an assistant coach during the 1980s. His run as an assistant coach at Minnesota included the Gophers winning a Big Ten championship in his initial season with the team. Saunders would head off to coach Tulsa in 1986 before heading to the CBA and eventually the NBA when he became the head coach of the Timberwolves in 1995.
The NBA and basketball in general suffered a great loss this weekend with the passing of Flip Saunders. The former Gopher guard and assistant coach was by far one of the top coaches throughout the '90s and '00s and will be greatly missed.