Clemson officially introduced Amanda Butler as its new women’s basketball coach during a news conference on Friday.
The former Florida coach has the tall task of turning around a program that finished 11-19 this past season and managed five ACC victories combined over the past four years.
Butler faces plenty of challenges, including recruiting top players to the Upstate, expanding the fan base (the Tigers averaged 778 fans per game last year) and trying to build a team that can be competitive in one of the toughest leagues in the country.
But perhaps the biggest challenge is that there is a program in the same state that has turned into one of the top programs nationally.
Dawn Staley’s South Carolina squad has advanced to the Sweet 16 each of the past five years, with two Final Four appearances and a national title during that time.
Butler does not view sharing a state with the Gamecocks as a negative, but believes competing against USC for recruits and on the court is a positive.
“I do have a relationship with Dawn. I tell you what, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and what she’s done there. I think the biggest asset for us is that program has shown a light on our state, success at the highest level in women’s basketball can occur right here,” Butler said. “I think it’s a fantastic rivalry and I love those rivalries. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some catching up to do. We’re excited for those battles that we’re going to have with South Carolina.”
Butler is no stranger to competing against Staley and the Gamecocks.
She coached at Florida from 2007-17 and faced Staley 12 times. Butler won the first four matchups, while Staley’s Gamecocks won the last eight.
“I’ve enjoyed competing against them … Very physical, very intense, and usually two well-prepared teams that just wanted the best for each other and their schools,” Butler said. “Dawn is someone that I communicate with whenever there are big events, a big win for her or something like that. I have a great amount of respect for her.”
Butler signed a five-year deal that will pay her a base salary of $350,000 for each of the first two seasons. She will make $375,000 in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and the final year of her deal is for $400,000.
Butler has made the postseason in 10 of her 12 seasons as a coach, with four NCAA Tournament appearances.
Clemson has not made the postseason since 2004 and its last NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2002. Still, Butler believes she can lead the Tigers to success.
“I think that the opportunity here fits me. And that’s what we’re all looking for, whether you’re a student looking for a college to attend or whether you’re an athlete looking for a team to play for, or whether you’re a coach looking for a university community to join, you’re looking for a fit,” Butler said. “I was very excited when I was contacted about this job … I really kind of felt an immediate connection to what was going on here, what the potential is here and felt like it was a great fit for me and my family.”
Butler's time at Florida ended in disappointment, as she was fired following a 15-16 season. Still she finished with a record of 190-136.
Butler spent the past year learning from some of the top coaches in basketball, including Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and UConn’s Geno Auriemma.
She believes the lessons she learned during her time away from coaching will pay off during her tenure at Clemson.
“There were so many people that just said, ‘Hey, yeah, come in and stay as long as you want,’ and I did. I stayed as long as I possibly could and just tried to soak up as much as possible,” Butler said. “I had a tremendous year that I’m so thankful for, and learning is fun … Growth and development is something that I hope we’re all pursuing.
"At the same time there was a reminder for me every day I love basketball, I love coaching, and I cherish being a part of a team. That was something I was really eager to get back involved again to have my group, my team, to be part of something that was bigger than just me as an individual on this journey.”