Via Twitter, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced today that “with extreme sadness” that its part-owner, president of basketball operations and head coach Phil “Flip” Saunders had passed away at 60 years old. In June, Saunders was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a cancer of the immune system. Shortly thereafter, Saunders began chemotherapy treatments.
NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Coach Flip Saunders Passes Away at 60
Saunders and the team indicated that Saunders planned to continue working during the treatments as the cancer was “treatable.” In September, the Timberwolves announced that Saunders had been hospitalized due to complications from the chemotherapy treatments.
The Timberwolves then promoted associate head coach Sam Mitchell to interim head coach and expanded general manager Milt Newtown’s duties while Saunders recovered. Saunders is survived by his wife, Debbie, three daughters, Mindy, Rachel and Kimberly and his son Ryan, who is a Timberwolves assistant coach.
Saunders Became Timberwolves Head Coach in 1995
Saunders was originally hired in 1995 by the Timberwolves as a general manager by his former University of Minnesota teammate, Kevin McHale. Just seven months later, Saunders was named head coach replacing the fired Bill Blair.
Saunders guided the Timberwolves to its first-ever playoff berth in the 1996-97 season. His Timberwolves’ teams were successful and qualified for the playoffs eight seasons in a row. The team reached the Western Conference Finals in the 2003-04 NBA season losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. Saunders was fired at the end of a losing 2004-05 season. Saunders returned to coach the Timberwolves in 2014-15 season. Saunders is the only coach to have led the Timberwolves to a winning regular season record or a playoff berth.
Saunders Most Successful Timberwolves Head Coach
Saunders coached the Detroit Pistons for three seasons. After losing to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, Saunders was fired by the Pistons. Saunders also coach the Washington Wizards for two and a half seasons before being fired in January 2012.