Flip Saunders: Keeping his head in the game

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2013 - 6:32 AM

It's clear that former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders wants to coach somewhere. So he's keeping his options open. "If the right situation comes along? I'll evaluate that."

hide

Former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders talked with ESPN commentator Dan Dakich during halftime of the Gophers-Indiana game at Williams Arena on Tuesday.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Flip Saunders is not taking a year off.

OK, so he's not prowling a basketball court in his unique style, exuding enough kinetic energy to light a city block. He's not coaching.

But he's busy.

Saunders is working as an NBA analyst for ESPN, regularly requiring trips from his Medina home to Bristol, Conn. He dives into both the NBA and the college game. Every minute he's not on air or in a meeting, he's watching 10 games at once, college and pro.

"I'm more in tune, college-wise, than I have been in a long time," he said.

Just last week, as the NBA's trading deadline approached, Saunders fielded calls from around the league from friends asking advice.

He is in constant touch with coaches around the country, such as Randy Wittman, who took over the Washington Wizards when Saunders was fired just over a year ago. And his son, Ryan, who's on Wittman's staff. He talks about three times each week with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who became his friend while Saunders was coaching the Detroit Pistons. In fact, the two met Tuesday, after Saunders took in the Gophers-Indiana game and Izzo went to watch Apple Valley star Tyus Jones play at Prior Lake. Saunders also does a weekly radio appearance with Dan Barreiro on KFAN and has regular contact with Wolves owner Glen Taylor.

He and son Ryan produced a software program for game analysis for the website gametimeconcepts.com. He is also working on a program for all levels of play that will take players and coaches from the first team meeting through practice structure and fundamental drills. He was in the middle of a demonstration of that program when the host at the restaurant came up, said hello and asked Saunders the question he hears, oh, about 100 times a week.

When are you coming back?

To the game, of course.

Saunders played at the University of Minnesota and was an assistant there. His long coaching career included a decade directing the Wolves. So when is Saunders, 58, leaving the periphery and returning to the game he's loved since he was a boy?

"I'm keeping my options open," he said. "If the right situation comes along? I'll evaluate that. I want to be able to build something, want to go to a place where something can be accomplished.''

Near-misses still hurt

But just when and where? Saunders remains coy. He insists he loves what he's doing, loves having more time for his family -- a wife, son and three daughters who all went to the University of Minnesota. Saunders recently went to Florida to watch his twins, Rachel and Kim, win another national championship as part of the Gophers dance team.

But he admits that nothing compares to the adrenaline rush that comes with coaching or being a part of a front office working together.

Saunders has made his mark and has plenty of money. He's too young to be done, too old to go to the wrong situation. But the people who talk to him now have the feeling he's ready for something.

"I expect him back," Wittman said. "He's antsy. Flip is a coach. He is a coach who misses coaching, I think. In talking with him, I can tell it's burning in his belly."

Said Taylor: "He is definitely keeping in touch with basketball, and his work with ESPN has kept him in touch with people. It looks to me like he has an interest to get back into basketball. He has the energy and the contacts to do it."

Saunders admits to missing coaching, but also talks with interest about being a general manager. At one point he will talk about the joy of working with people, the next the lure of assembling a team.

There is no question Saunders carries a feeling of unfinished business. He has coached 1,147 NBA games and won 638 of them. But he hasn't won a title. He coached in four Western Conference finals in five years -- one with the Wolves and three in Detroit -- but couldn't knock down that door.

Even now he speaks of the seventh game of the Wolves' conference semifinals against Sacramento in 2004 as the sweetest moment of his career. "When we won that game, I really believed we'd win the championship," he said. "Of course I didn't know at the time that Sam [Cassell] had torn the labrum in his hip."

When he speaks about the near-misses in Detroit, about injuries that derailed championship efforts in the spring of 2006 (Rip Hamilton), 2007 (Rasheed Wallace) and 2008 (Chauncey Billups), Saunders sounds like a man wanting another chance.

Recruiting? No problem

And what about college? Again, Saunders won't commit other than to reiterate the line he's given for years, that he always envisioned himself returning to the college ranks one day. There is the persistent rumor that he'd like to coach the Gophers, a team he still loves and follows, but Saunders won't touch that one.

At least not specifically. But he does cite names such as Rick Pitino and John Calipari as proof that moving back to college from the NBA can work.

"You've coached basketball 24-7," he said. "Offense, defense, game situations, game preparations? You've been through it so much you're more prepared."

Asked if recruiting would be a problem, Saunders laughed, citing his success recruiting when part of Jim Dutcher's staff at Minnesota.

"I'll say this. Recruiting is basically selling yourself, your organization," Saunders said. "When you go into a home, talk to these guys, most of the players are coming out of AAU situations. They all think they'll play in the NBA. ...I can say I know what it takes to be in the NBA. I scoff at the idea that I wouldn't want to go to college because I couldn't recruit."

It's the fit that matters

Saunders isn't about to say that college is where he wants to go. It's only clear that he wants to go somewhere. His most recent coaching experience, at Washington, taught him that the situation has to be right. He was hired and given a four-year, $18 million contract in the spring of 2009. He took over a team filled with veterans that was considered a playoff contender. Then everything changed. Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton brought guns into the locker room and were suspended. Owner Abe Pollin died, ultimately resulting in the selling of the franchise. Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld then decided to rebuild, trading away veterans Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Antawn Jamison.

"If you're going to get back into it, it has to be a good situation," Saunders said. "You want the camaraderie, but you also have to have the players and the tools to help you win -- and you have to have a voice in it."

But you can bet he'll be back, somewhere. His track record shows that. He missed a full season after being fired by the Wolves then went to Detroit. After Detroit, he missed a full season before signing on in Washington. And that four-year deal with the Wizards is about to run out. His work as a consultant for Boston coach Doc Rivers during last year's playoffs had to whet his appetite.

"I want something where I can make a mark," he said. "That is the biggest thing. I want to build something that can flourish."

  • related content

  • Back in the NBA? Saunders would enjoy building a team

    Wednesday February 27, 2013

    Flip Saunders says a return to the NBA will only happen if the situation is right. He wants to leave a legacy, and to do that, he believes he would...

  • Chart: Flip Saunders' coaching career

    Wednesday February 27, 2013

    1977-78 to 1980-81: Head coach, Golden Valley Lutheran College. He went 92-13 overall, 56-0 at home.

  • Kirilenko will be out because of strained calf

    Thursday February 28, 2013

    For the third time this season, the Wolves forward will be sidelined because of an injury, and it's getting old.

  • Wolves-L.A. Lakers game preview

    Thursday February 28, 2013

    Preview: Monday's 119-108 loss at Denver ended a three-game winning streak for a Lakers team that has beaten the Timberwolves 20 consecutive times. That's a streak that dates to 2007,...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Dallas 12/4/14 7:25 PM
Chicago
Chicago 109 FINAL
Boston 102
Golden State 106 FINAL
Charlotte 101
Dallas 106 FINAL
Toronto 102
Milwaukee 104 FINAL
Detroit 88
New Orleans 91 FINAL
Atlanta 100
LA Clippers 102 FINAL
Houston 85
New York 78 FINAL
Oklahoma City 105
Orlando 83 FINAL
Indiana 98
Sacramento 104 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Phoenix 97 FINAL
Denver 122
Memphis 112 FINAL
Portland 99
Minnesota 120 FINAL
LA Lakers 119
NY Rangers 3 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
Chicago 4 FINAL
Anaheim 1
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Washington 5
Winnipeg 1 FINAL(OT)
Boston 2
Montreal 1 FINAL
Buffalo 2
Detroit 5 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 4
Carolina 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 2
Vancouver 5 FINAL
Columbus 0
Ottawa 2 FINAL
Florida 3
Edmonton 3 FINAL(OT)
St. Louis 4
Minnesota 5 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 4
Tennessee 67 FINAL
Kansas 82
Eastern Ill 40 FINAL
NC Central 65
New Orleans 65 FINAL
Texas A&M 87
Radford 65 FINAL
NC A&T 57
Butler 64 FINAL
Georgetown 58
Prairie View 71 FINAL
Brown 81
Southern U 63 FINAL
Northern Ariz 70
Santa Clara 44 FINAL
Rhode Island 66
IUPU-Ft Wayne 67 FINAL
Dartmouth 68
FIU 61 FINAL
Wright State 59
Texas-El Paso 77 FINAL
Xavier 73
Penn State 88 FINAL
Bucknell 80
James Madison 56 FINAL
Ohio State 73
Yale 66 FINAL
Providence 72
Lamar 59 FINAL
Texas Southern 71
Miss Valley St 66 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 75
Missouri State 55 FINAL
Alaska-Anchorage 51
Minnesota 66 FINAL
Georgia 62
Oklahoma 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 69
Stephen F Austin 83 FINAL
Austin Peay 62
Norfolk State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 70
Middle Tennessee 51 FINAL
Cincinnati 69
Char Southern 47 FINAL
Florida State 58
Princeton 65 FINAL
San Diego 75
Drake 46 FINAL
Valparaiso 66
Rice 74 FINAL
Washington St 76
USC Upstate 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 64
Rider 54 FINAL
Georgia Tech 61
High Point 59 FINAL
Clemson 62
Emerson 50 FINAL
Hartford 83
Savannah State 71 FINAL
Jacksonville St 74
Monmouth 56 FINAL
Maryland 61
South Alabama 75 FINAL
Miami-Florida 87
Boise State 54 FINAL
NC State 60
Vanderbilt 65 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Gonzaga 73 FINAL
St Johns 66
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Syracuse 72
Bradley 49 FINAL
TCU 57
Alabama State 91 FINAL
TX-Pan American 79
Delaware State 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 65
Tennessee St 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 66
North Carolina 75 FINAL
Florida 64
Memphis 72 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Hofstra 86 FINAL
Jackson State 56
Samford 64 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 77
Cleveland State 68 FINAL
Marshall 59
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Nebraska 75
SE Louisiana 61 FINAL
Tulane 71
Creighton 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 75
Murray State 61 FINAL
Portland 64
North Texas 73 FINAL
Arkansas 89
UNC Greensboro 79 FINAL
Indiana 87
Michigan State 79 FINAL
Marquette 68
Western Mich 79 FINAL
San Jose St 60
Stetson 62 FINAL
Northern Colorado 82
Texas-Arlington 81 FINAL
Montana State 104
Pacific 64 FINAL
Colorado State 75
Miss State 75 FINAL
Saint Louis 50
La Salle 56 FINAL
Virginia 64
North Dakota 53 FINAL
Utah 90
UCLA 88 FINAL
UAB 76
Baylor 54 FINAL
Illinois 62
Long Beach State 70 FINAL
Washington 80
Mercer 60 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 65
LSU 23 FINAL
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 31 FINAL
Western Mich 21
Nebraska 37 FINAL
Iowa 34
Western Ky 67 FINAL
(19) Marshall 66
UCF 16 FINAL
So Florida 0
Houston 35 FINAL
SMU 9
Akron 24 FINAL
Kent State 27
Ball State 41 FINAL
Bowling Green 24
Buffalo 41 FINAL
Massachusetts 21
Toledo 52 FINAL
Eastern Mich 16
Arkansas 14 FINAL
(17) Missouri 21
Navy 42 FINAL
South Alabama 40
(13) Arizona State 35 FINAL
(12) Arizona 42
Stanford 31 FINAL
(9) UCLA 10
(21) Colorado State 24 FINAL
Air Force 27
Virginia 20 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
East Carolina 49 FINAL
Tulsa 32
North Texas 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 3:30 PM
California
ULM 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Northern Ill 12/5/14 6:00 PM
Bowling Green
(12) Arizona 12/5/14 8:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Marshall 12/6/14 2:00 AM
TBA
(11) Kansas State 12/6/14 2:00 AM
(5) Baylor
Iowa State 12/6/14 2:00 AM
(6) TCU
Oklahoma State 12/6/14 2:00 AM
(20) Oklahoma
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Michigan 76 FINAL
Washington St 64
Green Bay 71 FINAL
Georgia Tech 50
Eastern Kentucky 71 FINAL
Western Carolina 62
NJIT 65 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 57
Fordham 74 FINAL
Incarnate Word 42
Furman 63 FINAL
Florida State 94
Illinois State 44 FINAL
Miami-Florida 95
Eastern Michigan 74 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 78
George Washington 74 FINAL
NC State 66
Ohio State 55 FINAL
Wichita State 70
Western Ky 69 FINAL
Tulane 64
La Salle 71 FINAL
Long Island 66
Binghamton 51 FINAL
St Johns 67
UNC-Asheville 52 FINAL
NC Central 55
North Florida 55 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 41
Akron 73 FINAL
Belmont 58
Miss Valley St 46 FINAL
UMKC 62
Liberty 80 FINAL
Penn State 68
Colgate 44 FINAL
(21) Rutgers 60
Mercer 80 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Northeastern 72 FINAL
No Dakota State 79
(10) Maryland 80 FINAL
James Madison 64
Villanova 46 FINAL
Arizona State 51
Tulsa 87 FINAL
Buffalo 77
Boston College 90 FINAL
Brown 80
Wyoming 63 FINAL
Iowa State 84
Weber State 100 FINAL
New Mexico St 97
Texas Tech 53 FINAL
Purdue 69
Washington 81 FINAL
Hartford 70
Fla Gulf Coast 86 FINAL
Clemson 61
Drake 69 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 61
UNC Greensboro 64 FINAL
Navy 71
(15) Nebraska 71 FINAL
UCLA 66
Northern Iowa 58 FINAL
Hofstra 61
Austin Peay 71 FINAL
Southern Miss 80
(17) Iowa 67 FINAL
Arkansas 77
Cal-Irvine 54 FINAL
Bowling Green 62
Samford 56 FINAL
Georgia State 61
Siena 78 FINAL
Denver 62
Abilene Christian 88 FINAL
George Mason 86
Towson 49 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Howard 55 FINAL
St Marys-CA 80
Houston 67 FINAL
Idaho State 73
IUPUI 61 FINAL
Texas Southern 71
East Carolina 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 43
USC 88 FINAL
Sam Houston St 67
Minnesota 54 FINAL
Vanderbilt 71
Kent State 47 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 57
Montana 55 FINAL
Princeton 80
(9) Kentucky 92 FINAL
Oklahoma 88
Arizona 65 FINAL
FIU 58
Northern Ky 52 FINAL
Grand Canyon 45
Stetson 57 FINAL
Marist 50
American Univ 59 FINAL
Gonzaga 56
UAB 61 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 66
Oral Roberts 38 FINAL
NC A&T 47
Stony Brook 42 FINAL
(8) Duke 72
TCU 62 FINAL
Colorado State 76
(5) Stanford 54 FINAL
(11) North Carolina 70
Monmouth 82 FINAL
Wagner 59
Portland 59 FINAL
Nevada 84
Stephen F Austin 62 FINAL
UC-Riverside 90
Alcorn State 33 FINAL
Rice 61
Lafayette 61 FINAL
(12) Louisville 102
Florida 81 FINAL
Georgetown 73
Miami-Ohio 51 FINAL
Oakland 65
SE Missouri St 62 FINAL
Southern Ill 78
Florida A&M 46 FINAL
SMU 77
Northern Colorado 67 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 58
Montana State 66 FINAL
CS-Northridge 78
(22) Syracuse 63 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Dartmouth 74 FINAL
Cal Poly 61
Utah State 43 FINAL
(13) Baylor 99
Toledo 64 FINAL
Virginia 62
Christian Brothers 39 FINAL
Arkansas State 79
South Florida 67 FINAL
Illinois 61
Coll of Charleston 24 FINAL
(3) Connecticut 85
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Charlotte 58
San Jose St 87 FINAL
(14) California 110
Central Michigan 73 FINAL
Oregon 67
Fresno State 93 FINAL
San Diego 88
Boston U 49 FINAL
New Mexico 56
Missouri State 59 FINAL
Colorado 87
Ole Miss 52 FINAL
Utah 38
Prairie View 58 FINAL
Hawaii 72
Army 61 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 39
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Creighton 63
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close