Rand: Yeo, Saunders both survivors

  • Updated: June 5, 2014 - 8:39 PM

Wild coach Mike Yeo, left, and Timberwolf coach Flip Saunders have had their ups and downs with their organizations over the years, and both seemed unlikely to be in this position just a few months back.

In consecutive news conferences Friday, the Wild will discuss head coach Mike Yeo’s contract extension, while the Timberwolves will introduce a familiar face, Flip Saunders, as their next head coach.

If only the new light rail line connecting downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis already was running. It would let us ride between the two cities to both news conferences while pondering the significance of the two moves. Instead, we had to do it a day ahead of time. Just how did these important decisions come to be? Let’s take a look.

The back story

• Yeo was 37 when he was hired in 2011, making him another young coach with no experience at the helm of the Wild. That approach didn’t work with his predecessor, Todd Richards. The Wild missed the playoffs in Yeo’s first year and barely made the playoffs his second, setting the stage for a make-or-break 2013-14 season in the final year of his contract.

• Saunders was hired as president of basketball operations last year, charged with fixing David Kahn’s mess. The results were uneven in 2013-14, though Minnesota’s 40 victories were the most in a season since the last time Saunders was coach.

The moment both seemed far-fetched

• This year’s Wild lost six consecutive games to finish December, and rumors swirled that Yeo could be fired. Minnesota rebounded to make the playoffs, but another quick exit — remember, the Wild trailed Colorado 2-0 in the opening series and was in overtime of Game 3 — also could have spelled doom.

• Two weeks ago, it seemed as if the Wolves were heading toward hiring Memphis coach Dave Joerger to replace Rick Adelman. It wasn’t a done deal, but it sure felt close.

The moment both seemed inevitable

• After the Wild rallied to knock off Colorado and pushed Chicago in a tough series, it was a foregone conclusion that Yeo would stick around.

• When Joerger fell through and Kevin Love trade rumors heated up, it felt more and more likely that Saunders would call his own number.

The next steps

• If the Wild can find stability at goaltender and add a couple more pieces, Yeo could be primed for big success.

• It remains to be seen if Saunders as head coach will be a short-term experiment to get the Wolves through the process with Love, or if he feels he is the right answer long-term to try to coach the team back to relevance.

Michael Rand

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  • Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders watches the final minutes of the Wizards' NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Orlando, Fla. Orlando won 103-85. (AP Photo/John Raoux) ORG XMIT: DOA113

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