Florida can't afford another coaching mistake with women sports programs | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

Just about everybody was beaming earlier this week as Scott Stricklin introduced Florida’s new soccer coach, and with good reason.

“She is the perfect person at the perfect time for the Gators,” Danielle Fotopoulos said.

She is Samantha Bohon, who was accompanied by family and friends Monday when announced as coach. Her most notable admirer was Fotopoulos, a UF soccer icon whose endorsement matters.

As the festivities went on, Stricklin drifted to the side. He was asked if he felt any extra pressure to get this hiring right.

“There’s pressure to get every job right,” he said.

True enough, but this isn’t the average hiring. It’s one Stricklin really needs to get right.

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University of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin congratulates the Gator baseball team after they beat the Seminoles 7-5 with a walk-off home run from Florida's utility Sterlin Thompson (26) in the bottom of the ninth. Tuesday, May 17, 2022, at Condron Family Ballpark in Gainesville, Florida.

Tony Amato out after just one season

It was less than a year ago that Stricklin introduced Tony Amato as UF's soccer coach, replacing Becky Burleigh after 26 seasons. The Amato Era quickly went up in flames, with players accusing the coach of emotional abuse.

Smoke was still clearing from the dumpster fire with women’s basketball. That one hit all the wrong chords, with accusations of racism, sexism, physical and verbal abuse against coach Cam Newbauer.

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It’s one thing when a women’s basketball or soccer program struggles. If the coach is fired for losing too many games, not many people outside the college town notice.

When a coach is fired amid internal investigations, mass player defections and nasty finger-pointing, it’s national news. Gator Nation got two black eyes.

It would be judicious to note that some of the accusations were overblown. Judicious, but largely pointless.

The buck stops with the athletic director, and there was more than enough dysfunction to question Stricklin’s hiring judgment.

“You learn from every situation,” he said. “You try to grow and get better and evaluate.”

Give him this, Stricklin didn’t let the soccer situation fester like women’s basketball. He called Amato in when players began complaining about his approach, especially his comments about their weight. When it became apparent Amato wasn’t going to change, UF cut its losses.

Yeah, Bobby Knight’s players would laugh at such transgressions. But we live and coach in a different world now.

Relationships matter, and Stricklin said he’s gained a new appreciation for coaches who truly connect with people.

What happened with coaching search? 

Samantha Bohon, who coached Embry-Riddle's women's soccer program for 14 years, was hired Monday by the University of Florida.

So, why’d he have to learn that hard way?

Amato was hired from Arizona. After Florida fired him, I heard from the parents of one of his players. They said they knew things would implode because Amato had the same issues in Tucson.

“They never communicated that to administrators there,” Stricklin said. “(The administrators) said, ‘He’s a jewel. He’s a prince. He’s the best coach on our staff.’”

That’s why universities sometimes hire outside firms to help vet job candidates. I asked Stricklin if he’d ever hired one.

“I’ve used an outside firm twice,” he said. “Neither of those worked out.”

When was the last time?

“Last year with the soccer search,” Stricklin said.

Which brings us to this year’s search. The only void on Bohon’s resume is she hasn’t been a Division 1 head coach.

She was an assistant at Tennessee and has done admirable work at Embry-Riddle for the past 15 years. She knows what it takes to win at a high level, having been a three-time All-ACC player at Duke and a member of the U.S. national team.

Bohon was raised in Daytona Beach and knows UF soccer like the back of her kicking foot. Her husband and three young sons sat in the front row at her introductory press conference.

The boys were all sporting new Gators shirts. It felt more like a homecoming than the unveiling of an outsider.

“I'm just going to try to let (the players) get to know me authentically and earnestly,” Bohon said, “so that then we can build some trust into my intentions and methods.”

For what it’s worth, none of her players ever transferred from Embry-Riddle.

In a lot of ways, she does look like the perfect person at the perfect time for the Gators.

A lot of people hope so. None more than Scott Stricklin.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley