Since the firing of Tubby Smith last Monday many candidates, realistic or otherwise, have been mentioned as possibilities to become coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Flip Saunders has been a popular name attached to the job that moved to the forefront in recent days, and as a Minnesota alum with NBA coaching experience he looked like an easy fit for the job.
But that all came to an end on Saturday, with multiple sources reporting Saunders has turned down an offer to become the next coach at his alma mater. His rejection certainly came as a surprise, even with questions about Saunders’ future that have included a possible return to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he coached from 1995-2005.
A report from 1500 ESPN.com suggests athletic director Norwood Teague and associate athletic director Mike Ellis wanted to help Saunders assemble a coaching staff. Any viable, and presumably well-connected, candidate for the job may consider that kind of micro-management a slap in the face. Surely someone with Saunders’ resume, a 638-526 record over 16 seasons as a NBA head coach, would consider himself plenty capable of finding suitable assistant coaches.
I appreciate that Teague and Ellis fancy themselves as “basketball guys”, and the fact they seem to have high aspirations for who they will hire to be the next Gophers’ men’s basketball coach is a refreshing change. But if they did not trust Saunders to assemble a coaching staff on his own, or at least with minimal help, that is a bad sign for other potential candidates with lesser track records.
If Teague and Ellis insist on helping a new coach hire his assistants, expectations surrounding this coaching search will have to be adjusted accordingly. I don’t see a candidate with any sort of resume or connections wanting who he has alongside him dictated to him by administrators. There is likely an overall financial consideration for the university that Teague has to be cognizant of, and having highly-paid assistant coaches may not fit that plan, but that should not be a factor in who stays on a list of head coaching candidates that is growing shorter by the day.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.