Timberwolves head coach Phil “Flip” Saunders passed away Sunday after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Team owner Glen Taylor called Saunders “a symbol of strength, compassion, and dignity for our organization.”
Saunders, who was 60, was also the team’s president of basketball operations.
“He was a shining example of what a true leader should be, defined by his integrity and kindness to all he encountered,” Taylor said in a statement on Sunday. “Today is not a day to reflect on Flip’s accomplishments in basketball or what he brought to us as an organization on the court, but rather to indicate what he meant to us as a co-worker, friend, member of the community and the basketball world at large. We as an organization are devastated by his passing, and our hearts and prayers go out to Debbie and the entire Saunders family as they endure this extraordinary loss.”
Saunders had two decades of experience coaching at the professional level. He had a a record of 654-592 with the Wolves, Wizards and Pistons. He was the Timberwolves coach from 1995 to 2005 and then returned again as head coach in 2014.
He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and their four children: Ryan, Mindy and twins, Rachel and Kimberly.
In a statement on her Facebook page, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said: “Flip Saunders was a man of talent and grace. His death is a true loss for our community. My condolences to his family and friends. Our city has a heavy heart today.”
In another social media posting, Timberwolves star Ricky Rubio said: “Today, the guy who believed in me since day 1 passed away. He was all smiles passionate and really loved this game. He gave everything to the Timberwolves and did amazing things for us. He was our leader. Really gonna miss you coach. RestInPeace Flip.”
Gov. Mark Dayton also issued as statement Sunday. “The Timberwolves have lost a brilliant leader, and Minnesota has lost an outstanding citizen. I extend my deepest condolences to Flip’s team, family, and friends,” he said.
The team plans to wear a commemorative patch during the 2015-16 season in honor of Saunders. The players will wear the patch on their jerseys beginning with the Nov. 2 home opener at Target Center. There will be a video tribute to Saunders prior to tipoff featuring his friends, former colleagues, teammates and coaches.
The team is also hosting a free breakfast in the Mayo Clinic Square skyway with donuts and coffee from 6–9 a.m. There will be a chance to win tickets to the home opener.
A public memorial celebration for Saunders will be scheduled sometime later this year. His family has requested anyone wishing to express their condolences and support for Flip and his family send contributions in Memory of Flip Saunders to: “The Flip Saunders Legacy Fund”, P.O. Box 46410, Plymouth, MN 55446. Donations of any amount will be welcomed and appreciated.