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Tony Amato, Arizona soccer players react to Paul Nagy’s departure

Paul Nagy huddles with Arizona players
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The last time Paul Nagy wasn’t on Tony Amato’s coaching staff? You have to go all the way back to 2010.

Even then, they were coaching at the same small school in central Florida. Amato was the women’s head coach at Rollins College, Nagy was an assistant for the men’s team.

They joined forces when Amato was hired as head coach at Stephen F. Austin, and continued on together at Arizona in 2013, instantly turning a struggling program into a perennial NCAA Tournament contender.

But seven years and five postseason appearances later, their partnership has ended, with Nagy stepping down as UA’s associate head coach this summer, a move that stunned some who’ve been associated with the program but was foreseen by others.

“I wasn’t surprised. We talk a lot,” Amato said. “My understanding in terms of what I know is that it was just what was best for him, his family, best for the program, just kind of everything involved. He just felt like he needed to move on. We’re excited to move forward.”

So far, Nagy’s absence has meant more recruiting work for Amato and second-year assistant Sandy Davison, who are virtually connecting with recruits every day. (In-person recruiting is prohibited through Aug. 31 due to the pandemic.)

Other than that, Amato is unsure how Arizona soccer will look without Nagy.

“Hard to say,” he said. “I mean, all I can do is try and hire someone who I think will be a really good fit for the team and the program and Sandy and the players. So we’ll get the best person we can who helps make us better because we’re determined to continue to keep growing, adapting, evolving. And I’m confident we’ll do that.”

Nagy mostly coached up the backline and goalkeepers, but Amato said Arizona will replace him with the best person available, not necessarily someone with a similar background.

“We feel like as a staff we can coach all the positions, it’s just that’s what Paul honed in on, that’s what he was most comfortable doing, what he was most passionate about,” Amato said. “I’ll be flexible once we know the makeup of the staff what areas we’ll divide up. But obviously I’ll oversee all of it and have a hand in all of it and see where we’re at once we have the hire and what would be best for the team.”

Amato hopes to hire Nagy’s replacement by Aug. 1 so that the new assistant can get a couple of days under his or her belt before preseason training officially begins on Aug. 3 (assuming the coronavirus crisis doesn’t delay the season).

“Covid concerns and travel and all that stuff may slow us down, but we’ll see,” Amato said, adding that he expects all interviews to be conducted virtually.

The UA has a school-wide hiring freeze in place due to the pandemic, but Amato said waivers are granted in particular situations, such as Arizona basketball’s hiring of Jason Terry.

“Obviously coaches have fallen in that spot, so we’re gonna be able to post it and go through the process and hire someone,” Amato said.

Whoever he hires will have big shoes to fill. The news of Nagy’s departure, which he delivered himself, crushed Arizona’s players. Most met him long before they enrolled at the UA.

“Obviously I was super sad, I cried, I think everyone cried,” said senior Jada Talley, Arizona’s leading scorer. “That’s who recruited me, that’s who I’m used to, basically who my whole college career grew up around. He’s just like the dad when your dad’s not there. Jokes with you, but he wants to help you, has your best interests at heart.

“So it’s gonna be hard seeing him leave, but at the end of the day his happiness is more important than anything. If he wasn’t happy, I’m glad he left or whatever the situation was. His kids come first, so I’m just happy. He wasn’t all gloomy and trying to bring us down with him. He was like, ‘I’m still here. I’m still coming to the games. I’m going to the tailgates.”’

Nagy is still connected with the UA through his wife Caitlin Lowe, who’s Arizona softball’s associate head coach. And while he is no longer officially part of the soccer program, his influence will carry on.

“I cried for I don’t even know how long, but I’ve accepted it and I’m very happy for him and I will use everything that he has taught me to help with this next season,” said fifth-year senior Jill Aguilera, Arizona’s second-leading scorer.

“I sent a message in the (team) group (chat) because he had always instilled so much confidence in us. He would say, ‘I don’t care if this is Stanford, I don’t care if this is this team, I don’t care how many championships they’ve won. At our best we can beat anybody.’ And I can admit sometimes I don’t feel that confident going into some games, knowing how good Stanford is. But I told the team now it’s our turn to instill that confidence in ourselves and it’s going to be up to us to do it, and we’re capable of that because we’ve had Paul to lean on. And I think in that way it’ll be for him and that’s what’s going to make us really do well (this season).”