EAGAN, Minn. – An extra coach made an appearance on the sideline for Monday's Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice.
Only, he took notes instead of giving them.
Timberwolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders watched the Vikings practice along with Timberwolves rookies Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell and Naz Reid, and a number of staff members.
Saunders self-identified as a "die-hard" Vikings fan and said it was "really cool" to have a sideline view of the action.
The son of the late Flip Saunders, who served as the Timberwolves head coach from 1995-2005 and again from 2014-15, Ryan Saunders spent his formative years rooting for the Vikings and stayed committed through the ups and downs.
Saunders still remembers the seats he and his father had at the Metrodome during the 1998 NFC Championship Game, during which the Vikings suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Falcons.
Saunders was 12 years old and said he "wasn't the same for a while" after the season's conclusion.
"My wife, a few years ago there was a tough loss, and she's like, 'I've never seen you get this down after one of your own games,' " Saunders said with a laugh. "And I told her, 'Yeah, it's because I love the Vikings! That's why.'
"I just love the team. I really do," he added. "I'm a huge fan. It was really cool to be able to spend some time with these guys and get to know them a little bit, too."
View photos of Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders and players at Vikings Training Camp.
Following the conclusion of practice, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen stopped by to chat with Saunders.
Saunders was asked during an interview with "Voice of the Vikings" Paul Allen what it was like to have Zimmer approach him.
"It's one of those things you don't really think about ever [happening]," Saunders told Allen.
But I have so much respect for him and how he does things and obviously the way he goes about things. As coaches, we all have similarities – we understand the grind of things, we understand the sacrifices that families have to make, so it's nice to be able to quick share a word or share a quick story on some of those topics."
Saunders served as an assistant coach for the Timberwolves from 2014-19 and was promoted to interim head coach on Jan. 6, 2019, when Tom Thibodeau was relieved of his duties. When Minnesota defeated Oklahoma City two days later, Saunders became the youngest head coach to win in his debut since 1978.
On May 20, the Timberwolves announced they had removed the interim designation and signed Saunders to a multi-year deal.
While Saunders acknowledged that it's easier to settle in and relax a little this offseason knowing he has the title his father once held, he said that Monday's visit to Vikings practice was about more than being a fan.
"I have my notebook in my pocket," he said. "This was not just me to come be a fan; I mean, I was a fan, but it's not just for me to be able to see people. It was an opportunity for me to try to learn.
"I love a lot of things that football does, in terms of its model and how they go from drill to drill," Saunders continued. "There's not a lot of wasted time, and [I appreciate] the structure to the days. I have great respect for the organization it takes to execute those days."
Asked if any of his own players could sub in on the football field, Saunders pointed to the 6-foot-9 Reid throwing spirals across the now-empty practice field.
"All Naz has been telling me all day is how he's a great quarterback," Saunders said before adding, "But Coach Zimmer was saying he'd be a better tight end, and that looks about right to me."
The basketball coach is plenty familiar with Rudolph, the Vikings long-established tight end, who often sits behind the Wolves bench during the season. Minnesota-native Thielen also is a familiar face at Target Center.
Allen joked with Saunders that the pair of Vikings teammates might give Saunders a hard time on the sideline.
"I don't think either of them will be heckling me – I hope not – but Kyle did tell me, he did say that if I need it, he'll give me a little Drake massage on the sidelines," Saunders laughed. "So I told him he's gotta make sure to get some tips from a masseuse."
A friend of Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudolph stood out on the hardwood himself before turning his focus to football. He told the Timberwolves coach he'd be ready to jump into a game.
"He just told me that [he'll want to play]. I said, 'Hey, if we're having trouble rebounding or setting screens, I know he can block, I know he's aggressive in getting loose balls.' I'm ready to throw him in if it's legal."
For now, though, Saunders is happy to see Rudolph making plays on the football field.
Asked who some of his favorite current Vikings are to watch, Saunders mentioned Thielen and Rudolph in addition to a couple of others.
"I've always liked Xavier Rhodes – his physicality and the edge he brings to games. And then Kirk Cousins … just efficiency and everything, I love it," Saunders said. "I mean, I could go down the list. This is my team – I'm a fan of everybody, I really am."