Flip Saunders died yesterday. He was 60 years old. Saunders is survived by wife, Debbie, daughters Mindy, Rachel and Kimberly and son Ryan, an assistant coach with the Timberwolves. Jerry Zgoda at the Star Tribune has a well written tribute.
Saunders was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He was born small, only four pounds and four oz. His uncle once said he wish Saunders had been four inches taller. Saunders replied that he would not have tried so hard if he had. The little kid went on to be an Ohio prep star and was recruited to play for the University of Minnesota. At the U, Saunders started all but two games in his college career. He played alongside multiple NBA players, but realized his talents were better suited to coaching.
He began coaching at Golden Valley Lutheran College, a small college that closed in 1985, before returning to Minnesota as an assistant. After coaching for 11 seasons in college, he made the leap to the CBA. Twice Coach of the Year, he won two championships before becoming the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Soon after taking the job, he took over coaching duties. Known for his thick playbook and obsession with detail, Saunders remains the winningest coach in Timberwolves history. He was responsible for taking a flyer on a tall, skinny, high schooler from Chicago. Together, Saunders and Garnett made the Wolves a perennial playoff contender. He also coached the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards before returning to the Wolves in 2014.
Since arriving 40 years ago, Saunders stayed loyal to the State of Minnesota and his alma mater. Among other gestures, in 2012 he endowed two scholarships for the Men's Basketball team.
He announced that he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma-a cancer of the immune system-in June and began chemotherapy. Our society has made much progress in cancer treatment, prevention, and detection, but we have not yet made enough. Many individuals have fought and continue to fight courageous battles against a disease that knows no age, gender, or color. I am not one to ask others to provide funds to a cause. Should you be moved to do so, there are a variety of excellent organizations working to fight this disease. Choose wisely, and give to those who are focused on actual research funding.
Our thoughts are with the Saunders family.