Florida Gators soccer fires coach Tony Amato after one season with program
The Florida women's soccer program has parted ways with head coach Tony Amato, UF athletics director Scott Stricklin announced Wednesday.
The departure came after numerous players expressed concern over Amato's coaching style. WUFT reported the players specifically complained about Amato's approach to fitness, eating, weight and issues of body image.
Amato was hired last March to replace Becky Burleigh, who retired after 26 years. Stricklin said the complaints began in October, and he began addressing them with Amato on a regular basis.
Stricklin did not feel Amato had sufficiently changed his approach, so he was fired without cause. That means UF will have to pay the remaining five years of Amato's deal, which paid him $225,000 annually.
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"I didn't see the progress that I felt we needed to see," Stricklin said. "That doesn't mean there wasn't an attempt. I just didn't see the progress we needed to see, the work on that."
Amato's departure is somewhat similar to that of former women's basketball coach Cam Newbauer. He was fired last year after players complained he was verbally abusive and created a toxic environment.
"This is more about not being a fit," Stricklin said of Amato. "And me not believing we could get to the point where it's going to be a fit than it was these things happening."
In his first season with the program, Amato went 4-12-4 after replacing Burleigh, who was the program's only coach. Amato came from Arizona, where he led the Wildcats to five NCAA Tournament berths and remains the winningest coach in program history.
A native of Levittown, Pennsylvania, Amato played soccer for Rollins College in Winter Park, and he would later coach at Rollins from 2003 until 2009.
More than a dozen players have decided to transfer
Stricklin would not comment on specific allegations against Amato, but WUFT's Payton Titus reported players complained about the coach's fitness-oriented approach. They said he commented about their weight and body shapes despite knowing some of the players had struggled with eating disorders.
After Newbauer's departure, the athletic department restructured its reporting process to make it easier for players to come forward with complaints. Amato issued a general apology to players during a team meeting March 22, WUFT reported.
The problems persisted, however. Stricklin was asked Wednesday if he properly vetted Amato before hiring him.
"You can do all the background checks you want, you can do all the interviews," he said. "You can you can look at past experiences all you want. But until they're in your environment, interacting in this setting, you really don't know how that's going to work out. And so, certainly we're always trying to self evaluate and learn and grow and get better. But, you know, it's a bit of a inexact science."
Four players quit the soccer team and a UF official said a dozen more have entered the transfer portal. The search for a coach who can more easily build relationships with players will begin immediately.
"Tony has a lot of good qualities," Stricklin said. "And ... another time and other location, he might be a really good fit for somebody. It just didn't work out from a fit standpoint."