Florida fired women's soccer coach Tony Amato on Wednesday, changing direction less than one year after giving him a six-year contract to replace beloved program architect Becky Burleigh.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that Amato was fired without cause, leaving the Gators on the hook for the remaining five years of a contract that paid him about $225,000 annually. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither side has confirmed what led to Amato's dismissal.
Fresh Take Florida, a news service for the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, reported Wednesday that Amato left "amid unprecedented numbers of players leaving the program after his hiring and complaints by athletes who said he pressured them about eating habits and their bodies."
The report said that Stricklin promised the remaining players that the school was going to conduct a formal investigation into the program and that Amato had apologized to players in a March 22 team meeting. No investigation has been formally announced.
The Fresh Take Florida report cited interviews with both current and former Florida players and some family members, two former team managers and two players from Arizona, where Amato previously coached.
Among the accusations from the players was that Amato made comments about their eating habits and body shapes. Four Florida players had quit the program since Amato was hired in May 2021, and 13 more have entered the transfer portal, Fresh Take Florida reported.
Athletic director Scott Stricklin blamed "a disconnect" between Amato and his athletes as the reason for his dismissal.
"We have worked diligently with Tony since last fall when I first became aware of challenges with relationship building and communication," Stricklin said in a statement. "As the issues continued to be brought to my attention, it became apparent that sufficient progress was not being made and Tony was not a fit for the University of Florida.
"Therefore, it is my assessment that in order to have the program we all expect, this change is necessary. I appreciate Tony's hard work during his time here and wish he and his family the best."
Amato went 4-12-4 in his lone season with the Gators. He was hired May 24, 2021. He previously coached at Rollins (2003-04, 2009-10), Stephen F. Austin (2010-11, 2012-13) and Arizona (2013-14, 2020-21).
Amato's dismissal is the latest public relations hit for Stricklin, who has now essentially fired three of the first four coaches he hired since replacing longtime AD Jeremy Foley.
He allowed women's basketball coach Cam Newbauer to resign last spring amid allegations he verbally, mentally and physically abused players for years, and he fired football coach Dan Mullen last November after Mullen landed the Gators on probation for the first time in three decades.
"I fully recognize the disruption this causes our athletes and our program," Stricklin said. "We all wanted this to work, but ultimately it is my responsibility to do what is in the best long-term interest of this program, and thus this decision.
"We are totally committed to having an outstanding soccer program. I assure everyone this is extremely important to all of us as we begin the search for our new coach."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.