Minneapolis/St. Paul – The Minnesota Timberwolves today named Phil “Flip” Saunders as the franchise’s President of Basketball Operations. Saunders returns to the organization he guided during its most successful years, highlighted by a trip to the 2004 Western Conference Finals. Saunders, who has more than 20 years of professional basketball experience, will be responsible for all decisions made within the Timberwolves basketball operations department. As part of the agreement, Saunders will also assume a role as a Timberwolves minority owner.
“We are thrilled to have Flip back with the Timberwolves organization,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said. “Flip is one of the more experienced and creative minds in basketball. He knows what it takes to win in the NBA and we are confident that he will do what is necessary to lead us to a return to our best days as an organization.”
Saunders, 58, served as head coach of the Timberwolves from 1995-96 – 2004-05. He 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’ time with the Timberwolves represented the best years in franchise history, and placed him as the organization’s all-time winningest coach. He posted a winning record in six of his eight full seasons as head coach, compiling an overall record of 411-326 (.558).
“I’m excited to be back with the Timberwolves and want to thank Glen Taylor for this opportunity,” Saunders said. “My goal is to help the Wolves achieve the success that we experienced during my first tenure with this organization. We have a strong nucleus in place and will look to add assets that will allow us to make the playoffs and eventually compete for an NBA championship.”
Saunders’ time with the Timberwolves organization began on May 11, 1995 when he was named general manager. As general manager, Saunders assisted in all aspects of the basketball operations department, including player acquisitions, scouting and player development. Saunders added the title of head coach on Dec. 18, 1995, replacing Bill Blair.
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.
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.
Saunders was born February 23, 1955, in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his wife, Debbie, have four children: Ryan, Mindy and twins, Rachel and Kimberly.