Saunders flips back the clock with assistant coach hires

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2014 - 6:50 AM

His new assistant coaches are some old friends: Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe.


New Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders reached back in time and memory by naming Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe as the first two additions to his coaching staff.

By doing so, he picked two men he knows well and who in turn well know what it’s like to sit in the chair to which Saunders is about to return.

Mitchell played seven seasons for Saunders and the Wolves once upon a time. Lowe has just begun his fourth time coaching under Saunders as an assistant, the first two with the Wolves and the third with Detroit.

Each has been an NBA head coach, Mitchell for four-plus seasons with Toronto that brought him the league’s 2007 Coach of the Year award and Lowe for 307 games with the Wolves and Vancouver/Memphis.

“We understand the job, we understand the grind,” Mitchell said Tuesday afternoon shortly after the Wolves officially announced his hiring. “We understand the pressure and what it’s like to sit in that chair and make some of the decisions he’ll have to make. We understand because we’ve been there. It’s hard to understand when you haven’t been there.”

Lowe also coached North Carolina State for five seasons before he resigned in 2011 and returned to the NBA in Utah as an assistant coach to former Wolves teammate Ty Corbin.

“It helps a great deal,” Lowe said, referring to assistant coaches who have head-coaching experience. “You know what he’s going through, what he’s dealing with. We know what he needs and not just from the basketball side, working with players. We’re there to take care of a lot of stuff that he doesn’t need to worry about. That’s our job, to assist.”

That’s more important this time around because Saunders is tackling two jobs after he in essence used his president of basketball operations position to hire himself, at team owner Glen Taylor’s suggestion, as head coach.

Like Lowe, Mitchell will return to Minnesota because Saunders asked him to do so. He was fired by the Raptors in 2008 and last coached in the NBA as a New Jersey assistant in 2011.

“If it wasn’t Flip, I probably wouldn’t be doing it,” Mitchell said. “My relationship with Flip, the respect I have for Flip, the things I’ve learned from Flip, it’s all of that. I’m coming back to a place that, with Flip and Glen Taylor here, it was a no-brainer for me.

“They’re two people I played for, two people I have a relationship with and two people who care about me. They want to see the best for me. When you have a relationship with people like that, it’s a lot easier.”

Saunders last month interviewed Mitchell, 50, for the Wolves’ coaching vacancy and the two men talked about an assistant’s job as well during that interview process.

Mitchell is leaving television and radio commentating work with Canadian network TSN, Sirius/XM radio and NBA TV to return to coaching.

“Flip made me realize coaching is what I need to be doing,” Mitchell said. “The radio and TV stuff can always wait, but I’ve got a real passion for coaching. I love being around players. I love being in the gym.

‘‘It’s the second-best thing to being a head coach: You’re working for somebody you played for, somebody from whom I can continue my learning curve. I’ve only got 4 ½ years of being a head coach, there’s still a lot … to learn.”

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