Philip Daniel “Flip” Saunders (February 23, 1955 – October 25, 2015) was an American basketball player and coach. During his career, he coached the Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards.
Saunders began his coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College where he compiled a 92–13 record, including a perfect 56–0 mark at home, in four seasons. In 1981, he became an assistant coach at his alma mater, Minnesota, and helped guide the Golden Gophers to the Big Ten championship that season. After five seasons at Minnesota, he became an assistant coach at the University of Tulsa where he worked for two seasons before heading to the pro ranks. Saunders became the coach of the Rapid City Thrillers of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) in the 1988–89 season, where future Kings and Warriors head coach Eric Musselman served as the team’s general manager. Musselman’s father, Bill Musselman, had recruited Flip when Bill was head coach at the University of Minnesota.
Saunders joined the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association (NBA) on May 11, 1995 as general manager, working under his former Minnesota teammate, Kevin McHale. On December 18, 1995, Saunders was named head coach of the Timberwolves, replacing Bill Blair.
This happened shortly after McHale had taken over the basketball operations for the Timberwolves. He then added the coaching duties to his GM responsibilities after the team had gotten off to a 6–14 start. The Timberwolves went 20–42 the rest of the year, but the emergence of young Kevin Garnett as a front-line NBA player was a huge plus over the second half of the season.
He guided with difficulty the Timberwolves to their first-ever playoff berth in the 1996–97 season, his first full season as an NBA head coach. A year later, he led the Timberwolves to their first-ever winning season. They went on to a franchise-record 50 victories in 1999–2000 which was duplicated in 2001–2002.
Saunders replaced Larry Brown as coach of the Detroit Pistons on July 21, 2005.
On April 14, 2009, Saunders reached an agreement to become the new coach of the Washington Wizards.
On April 29, 2012, Saunders joined the Boston Celtics as an advisor.
On May 3, 2013, Saunders was named the Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations. On June 5, 2014, Saunders was named head coach of the Timberwolves returning to the franchise for a second stint. During his second stint with the Timberwolves, Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a result, during his recovery, he would delegate his coaching position over to assistant coach and former NBA Coach of the Year winner Sam Mitchell.
Career highlights and awards
2× NBA All-Star Game head coach (2004, 2006)