The biggest question running through the minds of fans of the Washington Wizards on Tuesday just might have been; What took them so long? The “Washington Post” has reported that the Wizards made a move on Tuesday that many observers of the Association have expected for the past few weeks; they fired head coach Flip Saunders after the club got off to a horrific start this season. The squad kicked off the campaign by losing its first eight games, and currently have a record of 2-15. Washington has named assistant coach Randy Wittman as interim head coach.
Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld issued a statement announcing the firing. Grunfeld wrote “We felt the team had become unresponsive and we will look to Randy to provide a different voice and a change in philosophy moving forward. We 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.”
Although Saunders found success during his coaching stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons; he never seemed to be a good fit for Washington. The head coach was in his third year of a four-year contract and had a record of 51-130 during his watch. In the month of December in his first season he had to deal with a major controversy as former Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas brought a pistol into the Wizards locker room; which led to him being suspended for the rest of the campaign. Soon after the Wizards would trade Caron Butler to the Dallas Mavericks and Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers; sending Washington into rebuild mode.
Saunders brought up all the turmoil that had taken place on the club since he had assumed head coaching duties. He told the paper “When I took this job, there were very much unique challenges. Usually the focus was, I 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. We went from a job with a totally different challenge, to all of a sudden survival mode, then immediately after that, into a developmental situation. I felt comfortable because I’ve developed a lot of young players over my career and it’s extremely challenging to develop so many players at the same time.”
The team had a players only meeting at the beginning of the month as veteran Maurice Evans got his teammates together to discuss the problems they were experiencing. Evans told reporters “We have to be real with ourselves. The sense of entitlement that’s here sometimes, I’ve never seen before.”
The firing was the second dismissal of a head coach this season. The Sacramento Kings relieved Paul Westphal of his duties earlier this month and replaced him with interim coach Keith Smart. Saunders is a good guy and a proven NBA head coach and will most likely be back on the sidelines soon with another team. Hopefully he will find himself a situation that fits him better than the job with Washington did.