GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida fired women’s soccer coach Tony Amato on Wednesday, parting ways less than a year after giving him a six-year contract to replace beloved program architect Becky Burleigh.
Amato’s sudden departure came amid an investigation into comments the coach made about his players’ eating habits and body shapes, according to the university’s television and radio broadcast station, WUFT.
The station interviewed eight current and former players and their families and quoted several of them anonymously because they feared they could lose scholarships. One of them said she fell into a depressive spiral while playing under Amato last fall. She said she gained 10 pounds, drank excessively on weekends and considered deliberately crashing her car once Florida’s season ended.
“He made me want to kill myself,” the player said. “I wanted to die because of the way this man ran this program.”
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said Amato was fired without cause, which leaves the Gators on the hook for the remaining five years of a contract that paid him about $225,000 annually.
Stricklin blamed “a disconnect” between Amato and his players as the reason for his dismissal; at least a dozen Florida players have landed in the NCAA transfer portal since the end of last season.
Stricklin said he first learned about potential issues within the program in October, addressed those with Amato and then failed to see enough change in the ensuing months.
“It got the point where I just did not feel like we were going to be able to get to where we need to get to,” Stricklin said.
Amato went 4-12-4 in his lone season with the Gators. He was hired May 24, 2021. He previously had successful stops at Rollins, Stephen F. Austin and Arizona.
Stricklin also fired assistant coaches Sandy Davison and Kyle Venter. The moves came days before the soccer team was scheduled to move into a new facility that was part of $7.4 million in upgrades to Florida’s soccer and lacrosse venue on campus.
The Gators were among the best teams in the Southeastern Conference for much of Burleigh’s tenure, but they slipped late in her 26 seasons and even missed the NCAA Tournament twice in her last two years. Amato took over a losing team in 2021 and was working to turn a finesse team into an ultra-fit group.
Amato is the third of Stricklin’s first four hires in Gainesville who have failed to pan out. Stricklin forced women’s basketball coach Cam Newbauer to resign last spring amid allegations he verbally, physically and mental abused players and staff members. Stricklin also fired football coach Dan Mullen in November after Mullen landed the Gators on probation for the first time in three decades.
Florida put more feedback avenues in place for players to report issues following Newbauer’s tenure, and some of those contributed to Amato’s firing.
“You learn from every situation,” Stricklin said. “You try to grow and get better and evaluate.”
Stricklin accepted blame for missing on Newbauer, Mullen and Amato — three guys who seemed to struggle to build and develop relationships with players and within the community.
“It’s an inexact science and you’re constantly trying to learn,” Stricklin said. “You want every single hire to work perfectly. You want to hire the best coach ever in that sport every time you go out to make a hire. Sometimes you don’t know how people are going to work out in your environment until they’re actually here.
“You can do all the background checks you want. You can do all the interviews,” he added. “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.”
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