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Phillip "Flip" Saunders (born February 23, 1955) is an American head coach of the Washington Wizards. He previously coached the Detroit Pistons and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

High school/college player

Saunders was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.He was an All-America basketball player at Cuyahoga Heights High School in suburban Clevelandmarker. In his senior season, 1973, he was named Ohio's Class A High School Basketball Player of the Year, leading the state in scoring average with 32.0 points per game. At the University of Minnesotamarker he started 101 of his 103 career contests and as a senior teamed with Ray Williams, Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale (who was part of the Boston Celtics legacy of the 1980s, and more recently, has been the Minnesota Timberwolves' vice president of basketball operations). Together they led the Gophers to a school-best 24–3 record.

While at Minnesota, he was a teammate and roommate of retired NFL head coach Tony Dungy

Coaching career


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 Tulsamarker where he worked for two seasons before heading to the pro ranks.

Minor League (CBA)

Saunders would leave after seven productive seasons as a head coach in the CBA, where he ranks second with 253 career victories. He began his CBA career in 1988–89 with the Rapid Citymarker (South Dakotamarker) Thrillers, where former 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 then later moved to the La Crossemarker (Wisconsinmarker) Catbirds for five seasons (1989–94), where he won two CBA Championships, before coaching in 1994–95 with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He also served as general manager (1991–93) and team president (1991–94) of the Catbirds. Saunders' impressive CBA tenure included seven consecutive seasons of 30 or more victories, two CBA championships (1990, 1992), two CBA Coach of the Year honors (1989, 1992) and 23 CBA-to-NBA player promotions.

Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA)

Saunders joined the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves on May 11, 1995 as president, 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, and to a franchise-record 50 victories in 1999–2000 which was duplicated in 2001–2002.

After the Timberwolves' success in the 2003–04 NBA season, in which they made the Western Conference Finals, they struggled in the 2004–05 season, winning fewer than half of their games. On February 12, 2005, Saunders was fired and replace by then-Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale as head coach. Many fans believed that the firing was unwarranted, citing instead the contract troubles of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell as the reasons for the team's failure. However, many also acknowledged that Saunders had already coached eight seasons in Minnesota, and perhaps a new voice was needed.

Detroit Pistons

Saunders replaced Larry Brown as coach of the Detroit Pistons on July 21, 2005. Under Saunders, the team set a new franchise record for wins during the regular season, finishing with a 64–18 record. Saunders coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars in the 2006 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texasmarker.

Despite the successful season, however, Saunders has been a target of criticism for the Pistons' playoff performance, in which the Miami Heat pushed them to 6 games in the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The worn-out Pistons eventually lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat. Saunders has received criticism for the poor defensive showing by the Pistons in the East finals. This has been speculated as a deciding factor in Ben Wallace's decision to sign a free-agent contract with the rival Chicago Bulls in the 2006 offseason. The 2007 playoffs also ended in disappointment for Saunders and the Pistons as the Cavaliers rallied from a 2–0 deficit to win the next four games and the Eastern Conference title.

Upon entering his third season as Pistons coach, Saunders became the longest-tenured Pistons coach since Chuck Daly's nine-year tenure (1983–1992).

Saunders was fired June 3, 2008 after the Pistons lost to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals; Detroit president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said the team needed a "new voice".

Washington Wizards

On April 14, 2009, Saunders reached an agreement to become the new coach of the Washington Wizards. The deal reportedly is worth $18 million over 4 years.

Playoff struggles

For seven consecutive years, Saunders failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. In the 2004 NBA Playoffs, the Wolves advanced to the Western Conference Finals. However, he came up short, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals.

In 2005–06, Flip became the head coach of the Detroit Pistons following the complex departure of Larry Brown, who left to coach the New York Knicks. The Pistons were coming off back-to-back NBA Finals appearances including one NBA Championship in 2004. The Pistons had the NBA's best record in 2006, had four All-Stars in their starting lineup, and were the heavy favorite going into the playoffs to capture the NBA Championship. However, they lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, 4 games to 2.

The Pistons lost Ben Wallace in the off-season to the Chicago Bulls, but added playoff veteran Chris Webber, who came to Detroit out of his desire to win a championship. In the 2006–07 season, the Pistons had the best record in the Eastern Conference, but lost in the Eastern Conference Finals 4–2 to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the 2007–2008 season, the Pistons finished with the second-best record in the league, but lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, 4–2. Saunders is known as an offensive guru, and because of this he was not welcomed in Detroit. His defensive schemes as a coach came into question, and thus his tenure as Pistons head coach was very much scrutinized.


Saunders is married to Debbie. They have a summer home located in Medina, Minnesota. Their son, Ryan, was a 6-foot-1 guard for the University of Minnesota, Flip's alma mater. According to Saunders, he was about away from the I-35W Mississippi River bridgemarker collapse on August 1, 2007.

Coaching record

62 20 42 .323 6th in Midwest
Missed Playoffs
82 40 42 .488 3rd in Midwest 3 0 3
Lost in First Round
82 45 37 .549 3rd in Midwest 5 2 3
Lost in First Round
50 25 25 .500 4th in Midwest 4 1 3
Lost in First Round
82 50 32 .610 3rd in Midwest 4 1 3
Lost in First Round
82 47 35 .573 4th in Midwest 4 1 3
Lost in First Round
82 50 32 .610 3rd in Midwest 3 0 3
Lost in First Round
82 51 31 .622 3rd in Midwest 6 2 4
Lost in First Round
82 58 24 .707 1st in Midwest 18 10 8
Lost in Conf. Finals
51 25 26 .490 (fired)
82 64 18 .780 1st in Central 18 10 8
Lost in Conf. Finals
82 53 29 .649 1st in Central 16 10 6
Lost in Conf. Finals
82 59 23 .720 1st in Central 17 10 7
Lost in Conf. Finals
Did not coach
8 2 6 .286
In progress
987 587 400 .594 98 47 51


  1. PISTONS: Pistons Name Flip Saunders as Head Coach
  2. Saunders has deal to coach Wizards
  3. NBA executive: Saunders will be next Wizards coach
  4. Pistons win sweepstakes, will sign Webber Tuesday, updated January 16, 2007
  5. Flip out: Pistons have a parting of the ways with Saunders, updated June 3, 2008
  6. Saunders avoids Minnesota bridge collapse, updated August 2, 2007

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