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Posted at 8:56 AM ET, 12/20/2010

In defense of Flip Saunders

By Kevin Broom

One of the least surprising results of a bad season is an outcry from fans to fire the coach. Calls for Flip Saunders’ job have become almost a meme on message boards, fan sites and in my e-mail inbox.

Complaints sound a familiar refrain: If only Saunders would play the right lineups, the team would win more games. Saunders has a double standard — he favors veterans and has a short leash on youngsters. Saunders is the wrong kind of coach for a young team — he needs a veteran team that’s ready to contend. He lacks the patience and teaching chops to develop youngsters.

My response?

Saunders began his head coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College where he went 92-13 — 56-0 at home. GVLC was a junior college — a level that requires teaching and player development.

After a stint as an assistant at University of Minnesota and Tulsa, Saunders coached for seven seasons in the CBA — a professional minor league. The CBA was by definition a developmental league. Rosters fluctuate frequently because of NBA call-ups and other opportunities for players. Success in the minor leagues requires the ability to work with youngsters, teach fundamentals, get players to buy into the system, and to blend individual talents on the fly.

Saunders won two CBA titles and was CBA coach of the year twice. He’s one of the best minor league coaches ever.

In the NBA, Saunders breathed life into a moribund Minnesota franchise, taking charge of then 18-year old Kevin Garnett. Last I checked, Garnett blossomed under Saunders and made the Timberwolves relevant for the better part of a decade.

Saunders also has been an effective “reclamation” coach. When Chauncey Billups arrived in Minnesota, it was his fourth team in four seasons as a pro. He was widely viewed as a bust. But that turned around during his two seasons under Saunders, and Billups continued blossoming under Larry Brown and then a redux when Saunders took over in Detroit.

Saunders has done a good job of resurrecting careers of guys like Terrell Brandon (on the junk pile after years of injuries), Shaun Livingston, and Latrell Sprewell. He also found roles and got serviceable play from scrap heap players nobody wanted like Dean Garrett and Bobby Jackson.

During his career, Saunders has worked successfully with every type of player, including crazies, All-Stars, minor leaguers, fringe players, developing talents, old pros, serviceable guys and valuable role players.

While fans may be frustrated with the results and with some of his coaching decisions, calls for him to be fired are misguided. Not only is Saunders an excellent coach, he may well be the best possible coach for this group of players. He’s experienced, he’s proven to be a great teacher of the game, and he knows how to motivate and inspire. If there are young players who don’t seem to be getting it, the place fans ought to be looking is at the players themselves.

By Kevin Broom  | December 20, 2010; 8:56 AM ET
Categories:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  | Tags:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  
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Comments

This world is about what have you done for me lately. I had 25 years in a career, today no one looks at it, and even I don't think it matters anymore. The real point is; what has he done in a year and a half here? This team is in disarray. Maybe Howard can guide and play them to better results. Saunders is the one who is playing 3 guards and a baby poop soft PF and leaving his center with no help, and then criticizing everyone except the ones making the mistakes, in public, to the media. Saunders body language, and his tendency to dump on certain players (Young, McGee, and some of the rookies) while letting others play individual ball (Blatche) ruins team morale. Save the history lesson. What has he done here?

Posted by: 1bmffwb | December 20, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Thank you very much for this. Some of the ridiculous criticism from the more myopic fans ('fire everybody!') drives me crazy. I assumed this kind of rational thinking was severely frowned upon around here.

Posted by: RIP-21 | December 20, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

When I criticize a coach, I give great thought to the movie Hoosiers. The coach was put down by everyone, they felt he was a loser, they called for his job. He knew he was right, made minor changes, got a new player and started to win games, according to the movie. He team started improving.

With the Wizards, you do not see improvement. The frontcourt players either dont or wont play the position properly. Either way it is the coaches fault, if they wont, then bench them, if they dont know how, you have had a year and a half, either teach them or bench them.
The 3 guards (one being called a SF) is getting killed nightly.
Blatche with all the talent in the world has brought it 4 times this season. The last game against the Magic, he brought it then lost it in a bone head play. He leaves the middle wide open, rarely ever gets off his flat feet, is not aggressive on tip ins, rebounds, or defense, or loose balls.
He can do all of these things very good, he just chooses not to. McGee gets the blame for he is the one who is playing one on five defense. You see him get dunked on, or slashed by, shot over. No one else is there to take any blame, or give any effort. Maybe Wall running full speed for a blocked shot out of nowhere. Saunders puts these lineups on the floor, and is watching game film. If the team is not improving, the coach must be held responsible. We have NBA talent on the floor, it is not being led properly.

Posted by: 1bmffwb | December 20, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

The team started improving.

Posted by: 1bmffwb | December 20, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I dont think people want him fired.

The fans just wanna know why Nick Young hasn't been starting all year when he's proven he can consistently score...and arenas was throwing up bricks, turning the ball over, not guarding anyone, and we were only putting up like 80 points a game?

Also why he yanks javale every time he makes a mistake, but never criticizes dray for never hustling inside.

Posted by: dochs1 | December 20, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

If this is the best you get from Saunders, and have to "wait" for this team to come around, sorry, I don't buy it.

The game against Miami the other night is a classic example. They should have won that game and I wonder if they would have had some better control during the last 3 minutes, they should have.

The team just makes too many mistakes to be considered anything but bottom feeders in the league. Sorry, I've watched one game in 10 years - the other night against Miami - and its not there.

Posted by: outrbnksm | December 20, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

First, going back to Flip's first head coaching job for evidence of his being a great coach is a big reach. That's so far in the past, it has absolutely no bearing on his current job performance.

Second, I think Flip should be bought out of his contract. And he ought to give a discount too. Why? Because it's obvious he's not having fun coaching these young extremely immature team. Flip was brought in to take a veteran line up over the hump. Since then, the entire roster has been turned out and instead of 3 multiple all stars, he has to deal with multiple knuckleheads.

3rd, part from Garnett (who didn't really win anything until he went to the Celtics) how many young talents has Flip groomed to success? Sure he's done some reclamation projects on players like Billups...but that's a different thing entirely. For one, guys like that are extremely eager to prove everyone wrong. And they already have a foundation to build upon. Young players like the Wizards have don't have that foundation. They haven't faced adversity because of their potential or freakish athleticism.

So yeah Flip should be fired. Not because he's a bad coach but because he's a bad coach for the group of players we have.

Posted by: tundey | December 21, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

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