After UCLA hired New Mexico’s Steve Alford on Saturday to replace former Coach Ben Howland, the focus of this year’s college basketball coaching carousel has now turned to Minnesota.
The Gophers, who defeated UCLA in the round of 64 of this year’s NCAA tournament, fired Tubby Smith last week. Athletic Director Norwood Teague, who previously held the same role at Virginia Commonwealth, had no luck when he made a run at the man he hired in Richmond, Shaka Smart. The 35-year-old signed a lengthy contract extension to remain at VCU this week.
But according to the Pioneer Press, Teague was also recently rebuffed by former Washington Wizards Coach Flip Saunders, a Minnesota alum, in his search for a new men’s basketball coach. Here’s the story from Charley Walters:
Saunders is believed to be at least the fourth coach to say no thanks to Gophers athletic administrators Norwood Teague and Mike Ellis since they fired Tubby Smith on Monday.
Saunders, the popular former Gophers point guard and 16-year NBA coach who resides in Medina, wasn’t saying anything publicly other than he’ll always “bleed maroon and gold.”
But it was clear that Teague and Ellis, who declined to hire a search firm because they reputedly didn’t need one, put restrictions on Saunders’ hiring that the former Timberwolves coach found unacceptable.
Walters went on to call the Gophers’ coaching search “embarrassing.” We won’t go that far. Minnesota is not exactly a top-notch Big Ten job and Smith was constantly pressing the administration to upgrade the schools’ facilities during his six years on the job.
Saunders, though, could have been the sort of out-of-the-box hire that galvanized the fan base given his track record in the NBA. Though he had just a 51-130 record coaching the Wizards, Saunders qualified for the NBA playoffs 11 times during a 12-year stretch with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, including four trips to the conference finals.
Saunders is currently working for ESPN as an NBA analyst. Smith, meanwhile, is a candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Texas Tech, according to ESPN.