AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) – Flip Saunders is starting the NBA season in Larry Brown’s shadow. The Detroit Pistons’ new coach sounds as if he’s already tired of it.

“Look, I’ve been in this league for 10 years and I don’t think I take a back seat to anybody in coaching,” Saunders said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Larry Brown is a good coach, who has his way of doing things. I’m a good coach, who has another way of doing things.”

Saunders agreed to a four-year contract worth up to $26 million in July. He replaced a Hall of Fame coach – who won a title in two trips to the NBA Finals – less than a day after Detroit completed terms of Brown’s $7 million severance package.

The Pistons have their third coach in four seasons, but Saunders isn’t worried about why Brown and Rick Carlisle didn’t last long despite two successful seasons apiece.

Before Saunders was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in February, he had the second-longest tenure in the league.

“Most coaches don’t stay anywhere long,” Saunders said. “I had a unique situation in Minnesota, where I was able to coach for 10 years in part because of how I deal with people. I don’t judge this situation as how it went for the last two coaches.

“I’ve been with my wife for 30 years and my last job in the NBA lasted for 10 years, so that tells you what I think about loyalty and commitment.”

Saunders was 411-326 with the Timberwolves from 1995-05. He led them to eight straight postseason appearances – seven first-round exits and an appearance in the 2004 conference finals.

After leading Minnesota to a franchise-high 58 wins, he was fired with a 25-26 mark last season.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” Saunders said. “The toughest thing was still being in town after it happened. But I told my wife things happen for a reason. I’ve always believed there’s a plan out there for all of us, and it’s a situation that worked out for me professionally.”

Minnesota owed Saunders $5 million if he didn’t coach this season, allowing the 50-year-old Saunders to be picky about his next move. He also was a candidate to coach in Milwaukee, New York and his hometown of Cleveland.

The Knicks ended up hiring Brown.

“If you looked at all the NBA jobs, Detroit would be one of the top two or three,” Saunders said. “That’s what I thought from the outside when I was evaluating my future. This franchise is in a position to win now and the future with a veteran nucleus and some younger players. Now that I’m here on the inside, I feel even more comfortable and excited about this job.”

After coaching a superstar in Kevin Garnett, Saunders inherits a balanced team that has had the same five starters in the past two NBA Finals and four starters in three straight conference finals.

Saunders emphasizes aggressiveness on offense, allowing players the freedom to shoot when open even if the ball hasn’t been passed much.

“He’s like a Steve Spurrier,” said power forward Rasheed Wallace, referring to the offensive-minded football coach. “He likes to get points up on the board.”

The Pistons have welcomed Saunders’ low-key approach after Brown’s relentless style during games and long practices.

“He’s a player’s coach,” said point guard Chauncey Billups, who played for Saunders for two seasons. “He likes to have fun, joke and laugh – like we do. He’s loose and loose about things. When we take advantage of that, he’ll tighten up. He lets you know who is running the show, but he lets you be you. Flip is demanding, but he’s not going to be screaming, ranting and raving.”

Saunders said his seven years in the CBA – leading Rapid City, La Crosse and Sioux Falls – helped shape his demeanor.

“Phil Jackson is also considered being laid back because like me, he coached in the CBA, where you can’t rant and rave over every little thing,” he said. “But there’s always been the perception of me being too laid back, maybe because my bedroom eyes make me look that way, but I’m totally the opposite on the inside.”

AP-ES-10-31-05 1449EST

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