The Minnesota Timberwolves today named Flip Saunders as the franchise’s head coach. Saunders served as head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995 to 2005 leading the team to its most successful years, highlighted by a trip to the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Saunders will remain as the team’s President of Basketball Operations, a position he assumed in May of 2013.
“After an exhaustive process and several thorough discussions with Flip, we came to the conclusion that he was the stabilizing force needed to lead our team,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said. “Flip led us to our most successful seasons; he knows what it takes to win in the NBA as his track record speaks for itself. He is widely known as one of the most creative basketball minds and I believe he is the right coach to lead our team. Flip and Milt Newton provide our front office the synergy needed to put our franchise in the best position to succeed now and in the future.”
As head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995-96 to 2004-05, Saunders led the club to eight consecutive playoff appearances and a Western Conference-best and franchise-best 58-24 record in 2003-04 — a season that concluded with a berth in the Western Conference Finals. During his tenure in Minnesota, Saunders won NBA Western Conference Coach of the Month honors four times (April ’04, Feb. ’03, Jan. ’01, Jan. ’00) and coached the Western Conference squad during the 2004 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Saunders is the Wolves’ all-time winningest coach, posting a winning record in six of his eight full seasons as head coach and compiling an overall record of 411-326 (.558).
“In talking to Glen, we came to the decision that this outcome would be the best for our franchise,” Saunders said. “I will work tirelessly to bring back the success our franchise experienced in the late ’90s to early 2000s. To that end, I will assemble a diverse, experienced coaching staff that will bring out the best in our players. Milt and I will continue to make the necessary moves that we believe will help our franchise return to the playoffs.”
After a successful stint with the Timberwolves, Saunders took the coaching reins of Detroit where he led the Pistons to three consecutive Central Division crowns from 2005 to 2008. In three seasons at the helm, Saunders finished with a record of 176-70 (.715), including finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference twice (2005-06, 2006-07). Saunders most recently spent two-plus seasons (2009-10 - 2011-12) as the head coach of the Washington Wizards. Overall, Saunders has seven 50-win seasons to his credit as an NBA head coach, with four Conference Finals appearances in 11 trips to the postseason. Saunders is one of three NBA coaches to make at least four Conference Finals appearances over the last 10 seasons (Popovich, Spoelstra) and his 638 coaching wins rank 20th on the all-time list and third among all active NBA head coaches.
Prior to his time in the NBA, Saunders directed three different teams to seven consecutive seasons of 30 or more victories in the CBA, two CBA Championships (‘90, ‘92) and earned a pair of CBA Coach of the Year honors (‘90, ‘92). Saunders’ CBA experience includes stops with the Rapid City Thrillers (1988-89), La Crosse Catbirds (1989-94) and Sioux Falls Skyforce (1994-95). Saunders also served as the general manager of the Catbirds from 1991-93.
Saunders’ coaching career also includes stops at Golden Valley Lutheran College, the University of Minnesota and the University of Tulsa. Saunders was an All-America basketball player at Cuyahoga Heights High School in Cleveland. He continued his basketball career at Minnesota, where he started in 101 of his 103 career games.