Monday, February 25, 2013

Flip Saunders Not The Gophers Answer

With the Gophers' basketball team collapsing in conference play for what seems like the fifth straight year under Tubby Smith, the whispers are growing that the Gophers are going to need to move on from Tubby this off-season. While I think that's unlikely, if it does happen, I'm here to ask that you as fans don't beg, borrow and deal for Flip Saunders to become the next head coach. He'll be a bigger failure than Tubby.

I covered the local recruiting issues that have haunted Tubby since he was hired, and those who are in favor of Flip Saunders taking over the reins seem convinced he'd do a better job of keeping the in-state talent, well, in-state. Because Saunders played at the U and coached the Timberwolves, fans just assume his connection to the state would result in better in-state recruiting. Even if Saunders does manage to keep more in-state recruits than Tubby, they still need to be coached properly and developed.

Saunders time in the NBA began in 1995, the same year the Timberwolves selected a skinny high schooler named Kevin Garnett. Does Saunders deserve credit for helping develop the greatest player in Timberwolves history? Certainly. However, "developing" someone like KG, who was an athletic freak, an incredibly hard worker and likely the most competitive person in the organization, likely didn't take a lot of skill. The Wolves failed to develop a single first rounder into a real star type player over the rest of Flip's tenure, including the inability to correctly manage Stephon Marbury. Saunders also was never able to broker peace between KG and Wally Sczerbiak during Wally's tenure in Minnesota, as it was widely reported he and Garnett didn't get along. The Timberwolves version of Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

Saunders did win for three seasons in Detroit after being fired by the Timberwolves, but he took over a dynasty that had already been built. The Pistons lost three straight Eastern Conference Finals series with Saunders on the bench. Flip then struggled mightily in Washington, even encouraging management to trade the 5th overall pick in the 2009 draft (which became Ricky Rubio) for Mike Miller and Randy Foye, because Saunders wanted "veterans" to make a run at the playoffs.

Saunders biggest strength as a coach seems to be letting his players play the game. He doesn't constantly micro manage every possession, and he seemed to give his players a long leash if they were going through a tough stretch. Those strengths may translate well to the college game, but unfortunately as Tubby has reminded us fans plenty over the last five years, a head coach that understands the X's and O's is just as important as anything else. While recruiting gets all the attention, Tubby's inability to create plays out of timeouts, the team's complete unpreparedness to attack any kind of zone defense, and his odd substitution patterns has cost the team dearly over the last few seasons. Saunders offense in the NBA was very jump shot happy, which means Saunders would need to successfully recruit good shooters on a consistent basis, something nobody's been able to do at the U of M in decades.

The team needs a great X's and O's coach who can recruit well or delegate the recruiting to a highly paid and highly regarded recruiting coordinator, because developing players and keeping players from transferring is also a big part of getting a team into contention, and Tubby Smith has failed miserably on both accounts. Saunders may be a "players coach" which would likely help keep recruits from transferring, but his X's and O's from the bench left a lot to be desired in the NBA.

Saunders NBA past at first glance would seem to be a solid recruiting tool, but in all honesty it's a very small positive for a recruit. Saunders last winning season with the Wolves was in 2004, and a team headlined by KG gave Saunders a lot of national publicity. His last year in Detroit was the 07-08 season, in which the team won 59 games. However, as mentioned earlier, the ECF series loss kept national publicity somewhat low until he was fired. My point is simply that the players Saunders would be recruiting would have been 8 years old or younger when Saunders was being praised in the 03-04 Western Conference Finals. For most recruits, they won't remember Saunders as the old Wolves coach, or the old Pistons coach, and most won't even remember he coached a terrible Wizards team for a few year recently. He'll simply be the Minnesota Gophers basketball coach, and for someone who's not great at the "coaching" part of the game, it'd be a silly hire.

Fire Tubby. Don't Hire Flip. I don't care what else happens.