Monday, October 26, 2015

Flip Saunders Had Everything But Time!

I met Flip at an event on the University of Minnesota campus called Campus Carni shortly after he had been named the head coach at tiny Golden Valley Lutheran College. Of course, he was with his then girlfriend, Debbie Hoeft, his constant companion until yesterday.

For those of you who were around the University in the 60's, 70's and into the 80's, you probably remember Campus Carni. It was a big Greek fundraising event with lots of loud music; scantily clad dancers and an eight-minute skit between the loud music and dancing. It was a fun time for all and Debbie was dancing with the University's Dance Line.

I worked up the courage to go up to Flip and congratulate him on his new position. I also volunteered to be an assistant coach if he liked the idea. He told me he was interested in learning more about me as we had a great conversation.

The next three years during my assistant coaching position at GVLC were a lot of fun. I made some lifelong friends and learned to play backgammon and chess from Flip and his roommates, Dave Winey, Mike "Bones" Cervony, Brad Cosgriff and Kevin McHale.

I am attaching our first team picture when we had the youngest college coaching staff in the country! Flip, Bones and I were only twenty-two, and Dan Kosmoski was only twenty-one! One of our players, Doug Moore was twenty-three and fresh out of military service. All of the coaching staff were still in college ourselves!

As always, click on the image to make it larger:

Bones is in the back row right behind Flip and Kos is immediately to the left of Bones. Several of those players went on to become very successful businessman in their own right and Dan Kosmoski has been the head basketball coach at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota starting his twenty-second year. Last year he took his Oles to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament for the first time in school's history!

I am proud to say we never lost a game in that tiny gymnasium that was overflowing an hour before each game to watch our pregame, synchronized warm-up program inspired by Bill Musselman in Flip when he played at the University of Minnesota.

Flip told me once, that he believed outside of the University of Minnesota's college basketball team, we were the greatest draw in the area for college basketball! I think he was right! It was fun being in that tiny gym for the three years I helped develop some fine young men. Two of them became All-American Junior College players and number 11; Hurdis Burns led the nation in scoring most of his sophomore year! He ended up in second or third averaging just less than thirty points a game. That was before the three-point shot!

Later that year, we won one game 144-68! Our last five players scored 44 points in 10 minutes because we were already at 100 and let them play for an extended period of time.

It was a fun time for me because I knew I was learning from a good coach who was on his way to the NBA one way or another. He took a long way in getting there, but Flip finally was putting the pieces in place to make the Minnesota Timberwolves a contending team.  He was putting together a winner he just needed a little more time.

He took a chance on me and I loved every minute of it. Flip's favorite story about me he has told many times was in one game he was arguing at an official's call and the referee told him to sit down and not argue anymore calls. If he stood up one more time the referee was going to throw him out of the game!

Flip turned to me and said, "If I get upset again, you go out and argue with the ref because you can't stand up!" He laughed every time he told me that story. 

I never thought I would be writing this blog because Flip was one of those coaches who was going to retire late in his life after the fire in his belly was gone. I do not think that fire would have ever left him. I know he was excited about his new draft choices, returning veterans and trades he had made.

I know Sam Mitchell will be a very good replacement. It will just not be the same.

I believe this picture Kevin Garnet posted says it all when he stated, "Forever in my heart."

As always, click on the image to make it larger:

My best wishes go out to Debbie and their four children. It is still hard to believe he is gone!

I look forward to your comments.




Colleen said...

great blog. Michael! I know it was a difficult one to write! Rest now as I know you did not get much sleep last night. I agree with everything you wrote and it's still difficult to believe. Love you, Mom

Eric Sisler said...


Yes, Campus Carni and all the old memories. Time flies and you are still watching Gopher basketball in the barn where Flip played all those years ago with that great team he was on. Then on to Golden Valley Lutheran College and onward and upward to the upper echelons of professional basketball. You were there at the beginning with Flip and he is now gone. Just like that. Hard to believe. Life is so utterly fragile. Great story about Flip in the early days and hilarious story about getting tossed out of the game and using you to "stand in" for him if he got upset again. Keep on trucking Mike and thanks for letting us into the inside and sharing a great story about Flip!

Anonymous said...

I remb. as a kid going to those games with you Mike! Flip was the 1st real Coach along with you that I'd ever met. And honestly that started my fire & desire to be a Coach.

J.R. "Jimmy" Logan
(909 Sheridan)