A processional through downtown Mooresville on Tuesday will honor the life and legacy of a football coach whose influence spanned four decades, from the local gridiron to the NFL.
Joseph S. Popp Jr., known to generations of residents as Coach Joe Popp, died of natural causes in his sleep at his Mooresville home on Thursday, his family said. He was 82.
Born in Johnstown, Pa., Popp led Mooresville High School to its first and only state football title in 1961. The school stadium now bears his name.
In the 1960s and 70s, he coached at UNC Chapel Hill, George Washington University, Wake Forest University and Georgia Tech.
In the 1970s, he coached for the Chicago Winds in the World Football League and joined the NFL Cleveland Browns coaching staff in the 1980s, where he stayed until he retired in the early 1990s.
But Popp was most proud of his family, and they of him, oldest son Joey said.
His family also included Peggy, his wife of 58 years who died of a stroke in November; son Jim, general manager of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League; daughter, Karen, a prominent lawyer; and eight grandchildren.
He was my hero, my best friend and my staunchest supporter, said Joey Popp, a well-known Charlotte journalist. He was the ideal father and an outstanding teacher of lifes lessons. He leaves a legacy that I hope will long be remembered.
My dad was a real motivator who made us believe that we could achieve anything, Karen said. He was my biggest fan, taught me the importance of loyalty and integrity and showed me how to be a leader.
Popp worked in steel mills and coal mines in his younger days. He also was a stellar athlete, quarterbacking his high school football team to its first undefeated season and receiving numerous college athletic scholarship offers.
He chose Catawba College on a football and basketball scholarship.
After graduating in 1952, he was the head football coach at Jonesville High, now Starmount, then at Southwest High in Winston-Salem, which he led to conference titles both of his seasons there.
Popp next became the head football coach at Mooresville High, which endured a 32-game losing streak before he came to town. In two years, he led the Blue Devils to an undefeated regular season and the state title the next year.
Joe Popp was named one of the Top 50 All-Time Athletes in Western Pennsylvania and inducted into the Catawba College Hall of Fame, Pennsylvanias Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame and the Mooresville Hall of Fame. In 2009, Catawba College created an athletic scholarship in his honor.
What a dad, Jim Popp said. I have been blessed to have a great friend, teacher, disciplinarian and loving human being that carved my way of thinking. ... He has always been immortal in my eyes and will be my superhero forever.
Popp also is survived by eight brothers and sisters and their families. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home and Crematory, 464 E. Plaza Drive (N.C. 150), Mooresville.
The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, 659 Carpenter Ave., Mooresville.
The processional will begin at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in downtown Mooresville and proceed down Main Street and eventually to Coach Joe Popp Stadium. All of his former football players are invited to be in the procession and should contact Bobby Compton at 704-664-5059; email@example.com.