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Apr 05, 2024

Happy Tears: Coach Poppie Finds Home in Clemson

Shawn Poppie, the former head coach of Chattanooga’s women’s basketball team, was named Clemson’s new head coach on March 26, 2024 and formally introduced on April 2. During his first twenty-four hours on the job, Poppie sat down, excited and humble, with Clemson’s athletic department for his first Clemson media interview.

“Now it feels real,” he said as he takes a seat in Clemson’s practice basketball court.

Poppie is many things: a father, husband, award-winning basketball coach, and cultivator of positive relationships on and off the court. Raised in Crescent City, Illinois, Poppie moved south for his college basketball career to upstate South Carolina’s Limestone College. South Carolina not only was home to Poppie’s days playing college ball, but his first opportunity to coach arose at his alma mater as well. Despite moving all around the Southeast for his career, Poppie considers South Carolina his home.

When asked why he moved his coaching talents to Clemson University, Poppie said he feels Clemson’s women’s basketball team is “like a sleeping giant.” Poppie believes his time at Clemson will be a great opportunity to get the team back to where they stood in the 1990s and early 2000s. As a former assistant basketball coach for the Virginia Tech Hokies, Poppie has already “gotten a sense” for the ACC.

Poppie has already sensed the “Clemson family” aspect of the university.

“This place is special. The people are special.”

His game plan for helping the women’s basketball team rise starts with relationships. He wants to immediately start cultivating a positive, energetic, trusting, athletic environment for his players. A clear example of Poppie’s commitment to a positive, trusting environment was placed on his wrist: a friendship bracelet, with the beads spelling out “together.”

“We’re gonna have to build the roster immediately, with the right people.” He made it clear that he would hold his players accountable, not only with basketball, but with academics, and prepare his student-athletes for life after basketball.

After a solid playing career at nearby Limestone College, Poppie began his first coaching experience with the women’s basketball team. Since then, he hasn’t turned back.

“I think women’s basketball is the purest form of basketball out there.” He proudly says, “When a group of young ladies knew you’d care about them, they’d run through a wall for you.”

When Poppie started coaching women’s basketball in 2007, the women’s sport was “still stuck in a box a little bit.” Poppie didn’t understand the comments he faced against female athletes.

When critics would tell him, “You can’t teach that because she’s a female,” he would ask himself, why not? Poppie’s response, laced with passion: “If they’re capable, why don’t we teach them and build them up?”

One of the most crucial aspects of Poppie’s life is family. Every opportunity, every challenge, every win circles back to family. He and his wife, Regina, have three sons Kai, Cayden, and Cameron. When asked about his family’s initial reaction to the news of his job in Clemson, Poppie smiles as he begins talking about his eight-year-old son, Kai.

Poppie explained how emotional twenty-four hours it had been just the day before, with the announcement of his transfer to Clemson University, and out of all the emotions of the day, one particular moment stood out for Poppie. When telling Kai, his oldest son, about his new job, the news brought the eight-year-old to tears.

At first, Poppie’s heart broke; he thought his son was worried about making new friends. But, with tears welling in his eyes, Kai told him, “Dad, these aren’t sad tears. These are happy tears”.

His son was “so proud” that his father and his family got the opportunity to go back to a “level” of basketball associated with Clemson’s women’s basketball.