Saunders’ timeline shows plenty of coaching success

Flip Saunders led Minnesota to eight consecutive postseason berths from 1996-2004, culminating with the organizations' first and only Western Conference finals trip.

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MINNEAPOLIS — learned Thursday that Flip Saunders will become the Timberwolves’ next head coach. In addition to his duties as president of basketball operations, he’ll reassume the position that made him the most successful head man in franchise history.

Saunders brings an impressive coaching resume back to the bench. Heading into the 2013-14 season, his 638-526 mark had him ranked 20th on the NBA all-time coaching wins chart, and his .548 winning percentage ranked 11th among all coaches who have overseen more than 1,110 games.

But before he led Minnesota to eight straight playoff appearances and the 2004 Western Conference finals and later became the club’s personnel chief, he had to cut his teeth in basketball’s minor leagues.

Here’s a timeline of Flip Saunders’ rise from Cleveland youngster toward the top of the basketball food chain.

Feb. 23, 1955: Flip Saunders is born in Cleveland, Ohio. He’d grow up to become an adroit high school guard and earn Ohio’s Class A player of the year honors with Cuyoga Heights in 1973, his senior year. That season, Saunders averaged a state-best 32 points per game. That helped him earn a scholarship to play at the University of Minnesota, where he teamed up with Kevin McHale and led the Gophers to a then program-best 24-3 record during Saunders’ senior season. Saunders started 101 of his 103 career games at Minnesota.

1977-1981: Saunders lands his first coaching job, at Golden Valley Lutheran College in St. Paul, Minn. He led the program to a 92-13 record (56-0 at home) for four years before taking an assistant position at his alma mater.

1981-1988: Saunders spends five years as an assistant at Minnesota, helping the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship. He then served two seasons as a Tulsa aide before jumping to the professional ranks.

1988-1995: Saunders takes the better part of a decade to perfect his craft at the Continental Basketball Association level. He got his start in 1988 with the Rapid City (S.D.) Thrillers. Former Kings and Warriors head man Eric Musselman was the Thriller’s general manager then, and knew Saunders from his previous days in Minnesota; Musselman’s father, Bill Musselman, recruited Saunders to Dinkytown. Saunders also coached the La Crosse (Wisc.) Catbirds (1989-94), and the Sioux Falls SkyForce (1994-95), now a member of the NBA Developmental League. Saunders was also the Catbirds’ general manager from 1991-93 and president from 1991-94. He won 30 or more games in seven consecutive seasons, a pair of championships with the Catbirds and two CBA coach of the year awards during his minor-league tenure.

May 11, 1995: Minnesota vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale announces Saunders as the club’s new general manager. On Dec. 18, 1995, McHale replaces head coach Bill Blair with Saunders. Joining forces with Kevin Garnett, Saunders led Minnesota to eight consecutive postseason berths from 1996-2004, culminating with the organizations’ first and only Western Conference finals trip. During 10 years as head coach, Saunders compiled a 411-326 record in Minnesota before McHale fired him Feb. 12, 2005.

July 21, 2005: Saunders replaces Larry Brown as head coach of the Detroit Pistons. In three seasons in the Motor City, he went 176-70 and led the Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference finals. But after Boston felled Detroit in six games in the 2008 conference finals, president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said the team needed a "new voice" and let Saunders go.

April 14, 2009: After a year away from the sideline, Saunders reaches an agreement to become the Washington Wizards’ next head coach. His tenure didn’t last long; the Wizards fired Saunders 17 games into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. In two-plus seasons, he tallied a 51-130 mark and failed to reach the playoffs.

2012-13: Saunders spends the season working for ESPN as an on-air NBA analyst.

May 3, 2013: Saunders is hired to replace David Kahn as the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations. He spent the first year of his tenure seeking to add pieces around power forward Kevin Love and trying to appease the indignant superstar from whom Kahn withheld a maximum extension in 2012. In coach Rick Adelman’s last season in charge, Love had a career year, but the Timberwolves went 40-42 and missed the playoffs for a 10th consecutive campaign — the NBA’s longest active drought.

June 5, 2014: A source tells that Saunders, after a fruitless search, will name himself the team’s next head coach. Neither he nor owner Glen Taylor necessarily wanted Saunders to balance management and coaching duties, but after interviewing candidates such as Dave Joerger, Lionel Hollins and Sam Mitchell without finding a replacement for the retired Adelman, Saunders decided he’s the best man for the job for now.

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