Minnesota Timberwolves

Flip Saunders Dies: Timberwolves Coach Was 60-Years Old

NBA Coach Flip Saunders has died at the age of 60. In August, Saunders announced he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, he remained optimistic — as doctors believed it could be treated. Two months later, the legendary coach has died of the devastating disease.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Flip began playing basketball at a young age. As he displayed an undeniable talent, he made the varsity team at Cuyahoga Heights High School.

By his senior year, Saunders was scoring an average of 32 points per game — which was a state record. Prior to graduation, he was honored as Ohio’s Class A High School Basketball Player of the Year.

After high school, Flip Saunders attended the University of Minnesota — where he soon became a valuable member of the school’s basketball team.

He was later offered a position at Golden Valley Lutheran College, where he began his coaching career. Within four seasons, Saunders led the team to 92 victories.

Flip was then appointed as assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. Although the team made it to the Big Ten Championship in 1982, he accepted an assistant coach position at the University of Tulsa four years later.

Saunders’ career as a professional basketball coach began with the Continental Basketball Association in 1988 — with a position as coach for the La Crosse Catbirds. He stayed with the CBA for a total of eight years before joining the NBA.

Flip was appointed as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in December, 1995. As reported by NBA.com, “he guided the club to eight consecutive playoff appearances and a Western Conference best and franchise-best 58-24 record in 2003-04.”

During his stint with Minnesota, Saunders was honored with several awards, including NBA Western Conference Coach of the Month — which he won four times.

After nine successful years with the Timberwolves, Flip Saunders replaced Larry Brown as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. In addition to becoming the team’s longest-tenured coach, Flip led the Pistons to an all-time record for wins during the regular season.

Despite a long, and successful, run as head coach of the Pistons, Saunders’ contract was terminated in 2008.

After parting ways with the Pistons, Flip was appointed coach of the Washington Wizards. Unfortunately, the position lasted just under three years — as he was terminated in 2012.

Although he essentially took the blame for several rough seasons, some sources blame the team for their own lack of success. Hang Time Blogger Steve Aschburner suggests Saunder’s hands were tied, as he was faced with a team that “seem[ed] like raw, incorrigible talent, oblivious to the value of coaching, committed only to their knucklehead ways.”

Aschburner further suggests the coach had very little assistance in his efforts to lead the team to victory.

“There are no old heads on the roster, no veterans both respected enough and involved enough to act as the coaches’ trustees in that locker room.”

On June 6, 2014, Flip resumed his position as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Although he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma one year later, the coach was determined to maintain his position with the team.

Initially, the doctors were optimistic about Flip Saunders’ prognosis. As reported by The Score, the doctors believed he had a “very treatable and curable form of cancer.”

Two months later, Deadspin reported “there [had] been changes to the way his body handled the chemotherapy (and maybe how much cancer they’ve found) that have made it life threatening.”

Unfortunately, the coach’s condition continued to decline. As reported by CNN, Flip Saunders died on Sunday at the age of 60. Prior to Flip Saunders’ death, Sam Mitchell was appointed interm head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

[Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]

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