Florida hires Tony Amato as soccer coach following Becky Burleigh’s retirement

By Adam Silverstein
May 24, 2021
Florida hires Tony Amato as soccer coach following Becky Burleigh’s retirement

The Florida Gators announced Monday that Arizona head coach Tony Amato has been hired to lead the soccer program after the team’s legendary coach, Becky Burleigh, retired following 26 years at the helm. Amato spent the last nine seasons leading the Wildcats.

“The University of Florida is a special place and I am extremely excited for this opportunity. 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,” Amato said in a statement released by the 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.”

Amato took over an Arizona soccer team that went 1-16-2 in 2011 and made it into a perennial winner. Since he began leading the team ahead of the 2013 season, the Wildcats have advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times with their best finish being the Sweet 16 in 2016, a season that concluded with a 14-6-2 record. They had not played in the tourney since 2005. Amato, the winningest coach in program history, recently had his contract extended through the 2020-21 season; it is unknown whether it expired.

His coaching career has spanned 18 years, beginning at Rollins College (2003-09) in Winter Park, Florida, and continuing at Stephen F. Austin (2010-12) before he was hired at Arizona. He is a four-time conference Coach of the Year, twice at each of his prior head coaching stops, and was successful in taking both Rollins and SFA to the NCAA Tournament.

“Tony Amato’s been a proven and consistent winner at each of the three programs he’s led. Each of those programs enjoyed a significant rise in success under Tony’s watch, including consistent NCAA bids. As someone who grew up in Florida and has coached in the state, he understands that the University of Florida is a special place, and his plan for Gators soccer completely aligns with our vision to succeed at the highest SEC and national levels,” said athletic director Scott Stricklin in a statement.

“Tony draws from his knowledge as both a player and coach, enabling him to help players maximize their individual skills and abilities, but his definition of success expands beyond the pitch. He has the ability to connect with his players on an individual level, and they in turn have earned high academic achievements while also being active in the community.”

Though he is a native of Levittown, Pennsylvania, Amato played soccer for Rollins College and has spent a significant portion of his life and career in the Sunshine State.

Despite Florida’s massive success under Burleigh, who was responsible for building the program from the ground up, the Gators had not found themselves back to the Final Four since 2001. Since 2003, UF soccer has been 3-6 in the Sweet 16 and 0-3 in the Elite Eight.

If Amato can take the exceedingly strong foundation built and maintained by Burleigh over the last quarter-century and elevate it even further, Florida may find itself in a great position nationally in no time at all.

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