The Minnesota Timberwolves enjoyed their only success when Flip Saunders was head coach. Now that he's returned to the Timberwolves' bench, are more good times to come?
Born in Cleveland on Feb. 23, 1955, Saunders was named Ohio's Class A Player of the Year as a high school senior and then attended the University of Minnesota, where he started all but two of the 103 games he played. Saunders began his coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College in St. Paul, Minn., in 1977 and led his team to 92 wins in 105 games, including a perfect record in 56 home contests. In 1981, he returned to Minnesota as an assistant coach. One of the highlights of his five years there was undoubtedly the Gophers winning the 1982 Big Ten championship. He then spent two years as an assistant at the University of Tulsa.
Saunders moved to the professional ranks in 1988, but the glory of the NBA was still years away. Instead, he traveled to South Dakota to coach the Continental Basketball Association's Rapid City Thrillers. He took over the La Crosse Catbirds a year later and led them to CBA championships in 1990 and 1992, earning Coach of the Year honors in both years. His duties with the Catbirds also included two years as general manager and three years as team president. After five years with the Catbirds, he spent a year coaching the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Kevin McHale, vice president of operations for the Timberwolves and a college teammate, hired Saunders as the team's general manager in May 1995. Seven months later McHale fired head coach Bill Blair and chose Saunders to replace him. Saunders was taking over a team that had never won more than 29 games in a season since joining the NBA in 1989 and had failed to even win 20 games twice. The Timberwolves finished the 1995-96 season with only 26 wins, but change was on the way. In 1996-97, Saunders' first full season as head coach, the Timberwolves won 40 games and made the postseason for the first time in team history. It was the start of eight consecutive playoff appearances for the franchise. Three years later the Timberwolves won 50 games for the first time. The 2003-04 season saw the Timberwolves win 58 games, most in the Western Conference, and advance to the conference finals. Having won nearly 56 percent of his games, been named Coach of the Month four times and coached the Western Conference All-Star team once, Saunders was dismissed in February 2005.
Five months after leaving Minnesota Saunders was hired as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. This time, he had a tough act to follow. The Pistons had reached the NBA Finals in each of the previous two years and won the 2004 championship under Saunders' predecessor, Larry Brown. Detroit won a team-record 64 games in Saunders' first season but were defeated in the Eastern Conference Finals, an outcome they would also experience the following two seasons. Despite having won 71.5 percent of his games with the Pistons, Saunders was fired in June 2008.
The Washington Wizards hired Saunders as their head coach in April 2009. It proved to be his only unsuccessful coaching stint. He won only 51 of 181 games and was fired 17 games into the 2011-12 season. Saunders was involved with the NBA in 2012-13, but as an ESPN analyst rather than a coach.
In May 2013, nearly two decades after he left, Saunders returned to the Timberwolves as the new president of basketball operations. Power forward Kevin Love's great season wasn't enough to prevent the Timberwolves from missing the playoffs for an NBA-worst 10th straight season. Rick Adelman's requirement meant a new head coach was necessary, and after a series of interviews failed to locate a suitable replacement, Saunders took the job. He would also continue serving as team president.