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Arizona soccer head coach Tony Amato hired away by Florida

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Arizona soccer head coach Tony Amato has been hired away as the new head coach at Florida, the Gators announced Monday afternoon.

It’s a tremendous loss for the UA. The winningest coach in program history, Amato turned around an Arizona program that was once the worst in the Pac-12. In eight seasons, Amato’s teams posted a 88-53-17 record including five NCAA Tournament appearances and a 39-39-9 Pac-12 record, despite it being the toughest conference in the country.

In the four seasons before Amato’s arrival, the Wildcats went 16-55-7, never winning more than two Pac-12 games. Arizona had a 5-34-3 conference record during that stretch.

Amato takes over a Florida program that went 6-8-1 in 2020-21 but was typically one of the best teams in the SEC and a perennial NCAA Tournament contender under Becky Burleigh, the only head coach in program history.

Amato graduated and coached at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, which is about two hours south of Gainesville, so heading to UF is somewhat of a homecoming for him.

“The University of Florida is a special place and I am extremely excited for this opportunity,” Amato said in a statement. “I have admired Florida Soccer and the program Becky Burleigh built since I started coaching at Rollins College. I am honored to follow in her footsteps and will work tirelessly to make our administration, alumni and fans proud of our Gator team. The goal is to build off our players’ strengths and put them in a position for success. This, combined with attending a top-10 academic university, gives our players the opportunity to maximize their potential on and off the field.

“I would like to thank Scott Stricklin and the entire search committee for believing in me to lead Florida Soccer to future success. My family and I are looking forward to returning to the state of Florida where we have so many great relationships. We cannot wait to meet the team and start on this journey together.”

Time is not on Arizona’s side in its search for Amato’s replacement. The 2021 season begins in August. Coaching changes normally occur in the winter, but not this year because the 2020 season was postponed until the spring and didn’t end until April.

Either way, it will be a tough position to fill. While Arizona soccer now has a recent history of winning to sell, it’s still behind its Pac-12 peers when it comes to facilities, a hindrance for recruiting.

Amato was able to overcome that by maximizing talent. The Wildcats became known around the Pac-12 for their speed, athleticism and high press defense, which allowed them to consistently beat more talented teams.