After the Minnesota Timberwolves fired head coach Tom Thibodeau, the organization named Ryan Saunders as the interim coach for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.
The babyface Saunders is set to make his NBA head coaching debut tonight when the Timberwolves head south to take on Paul George, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Saunders is the son of former Timberwolves head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders; Flip died in October 2015 after a multi-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Ryan has been an assistant in Minnesota for the past five years, working under his father for several years after Flip was re-hired by the organization in 2013. Flip served as the team’s head coach from 1995-2005, then returned as president in May 2013 before stepping into the head coaching role in June 2014.
Saunders Rank Among Youngest Coaches
Saunders, 32, becomes the youngest active head coach in the NBA. Saunders supplants Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton (38), and has turned a career as a former player at the University of Minnesota and assistant with the Washington Wizards and Timberwolves into a surprising head coaching role at such a fresh age. Priot to being hired as an assistant by the Wizards in 2009, Saunders was a graduate assistant under Tubby Smith at the University of Minnesota in 2008, helping the program to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The youngest coach in NBA history is Dave Debusschere, who acted as a player-coach for the Detroit Pistons at just 24-years old in 1964. Most other acknowledged NBA coaches who took on the role during their roaring 20s were all former player-coaches like Debusschere.
Saunders’ Outlook with the Timberwolves
Sanders remains positive of the team’s outlook as his group is still attempting to figure out how the pieces fit following the trade of Jimmy Butler. In an interview with the Twin Cities Pioneer Press prior to Tuesday night, Saunders said:
“We’ve got so much talent on this team. We’ve got a good group of people that make things a lot easier… My gauge is that everybody has been incredible through this. I don’t know if you can classify anybody as necessarily a ‘Thibs guy’ or ‘Chicago guy.’ Everybody has been in this organization to try and help this organization become better, and that’s everyone’s main focus.”
With Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins locked up on long-term contract extensions, Saunders has a young core in place that he can possibly relate better to than Thibodeau’s attempt at the Timberbulls ever could.