Wizards fire former Gophers guard Saunders

The Wizards were off to a 2-15 start this season under Flip Saunders.

Samuel Gordon

Former Gophers basketball player and longtime NBA head coach Flip Saunders was fired Tuesday by the Washington Wizards after a 2-15 start to the season.

Randy Wittman will serve as the interim head coach.

âÄúWe felt the team had become unresponsive, and we will look to Randy to provide a different voice and a change in philosophy moving forward,âÄù Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement.

 âÄúWe have been transparent in how we would evaluate our team this season and we were disappointed in the lack of development of our players at this point in our rebuilding plan.âÄù

In 16 seasons as an NBA head coach, Saunders, who played college basketball for Minnesota in the 1970s, amassed a 638-526 record. He coached the Minnesota Timberwolves from 1995-2005, the Detroit Pistons from 2005-08 and had coached the Wizards since 2009.

The decision to fire Saunders comes on the heels of an embarrassing 103-83 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

Saunders told the Washington Post he was disappointed about the firing. He added the job was not exactly what he was expecting, citing the change of player personnel in the aftermath of a December 2009 locker room feud that involved Javaris Cittenton pulling out a firearm and pointing it at teammate Gilbert Arenas.

 âÄúWhen I took this job, there were very much unique challenges,âÄù he told the Post. âÄúI believe we had the opportunity to coach a veteran team that had a chance to make a run into the playoffs. That job description changed drastically when we experienced the gun in the locker room situation.

âÄúI felt comfortable because IâÄôve developed a lot of young players over my career and itâÄôs extremely challenging to develop so many players at the same time.âÄù

The roster changed significantly during the 2009-10 season, SaundersâÄô first with the team.

Both players involved in the feud âÄî which was reportedly over a gambling debt âÄî were suspended for the remainder of the season.

Grunfeld subsequently cleaned house by trading Arenas, former All-Stars Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, as well as Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson.

The young-but-talented Wizards, led by 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall, have the worst record in the league thus far.

Saunders was in the third year of a four-year, $18 million contract.

Wittman, who will replace Saunders on an interim basis, also served as the interim coach for the Timberwolves in 2006-07 after the team fired Dwane Casey. He was fired by the Timberwolves just 19 games into the 2007-08 campaign after a 4-15 start.