Tony Amato wasn't the first Rollins College soccer player to double as Edgewater High School's JV boys coach. The job was a way for players to make a couple hundred bucks in the offseason while teaching Orlando teens.

Amato, though, might have been the first Tars player to obsess over it.

"I wouldn't fall asleep at night because I was thinking about the JV boys team and how we were going to be better," he said Wednesday.

"I was coaching an under-10 team, too, and I had the same hunger to make those kids better.

"I thought, 'Man, if I could do this as a career…'"

After graduating in 2000, he began officiating spring scrimmages for Rollins' Division II women's team. That turned into a $3,000-a-year assistant gig.

By the fall of 2003, he was running the team.

Ten seasons, two schools and a 127-49-14 record later, Amato was one of the six finalists the Arizona Wildcats interviewed to fill the soccer vacancy created when Lisa Oyen quit last month.

Amato had never been to Tucson until the interview and said he had "dabbled" in soccer recruiting in California and Arizona.

But the 34-year-old had a 12-page, bound book he handed out to athletic director Greg Byrne and deputies Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose and Erika Barnes.

It was his plan.

"A to Z," Byrne said. "Academics to zone defense."

Amato agreed last week to a three-year contract that, pending Arizona Board of Regents approval, will pay him $80,000 per year plus an annual $10,000 bonus from Nike.

"From a career standpoint," Amato said, "having the opportunity to coach against some of the best coaches, best programs, to work with the best players - my wife (Samantha) and I knew we had to do that."

Byrne has now made five UA head coaching hires, with each winning résumé more different from the last.

Swim coach Eric Hansen was the head coach at a big school, Wisconsin, while Amato was the head coach at two small schools, most recently Stephen F. Austin, where he went 45-12-3.

Women's golf coach Laura Ianello was an in-house assistant; men's golf coach Jim Anderson was an assistant at Texas A&M.

Football coach Rich Rodriguez, of course, was out of coaching for one year.

"There's a couple key things I'm looking for, and I think it comes in different shapes and sizes," Byrne said. "Someone with strong ethics and committed to the student-athlete, tremendous energy … and then somebody I feel will be on their way up.

"With Tony, he's had success wherever he's been. It's an opportunity for him to do it at the highest level."

The UA will welcome the stability. Dan Tobias resigned with seven games left in 2009. Oyen, an assistant, was named his replacement.

Byrne planned on her returning next season despite a 13-46-7 record at the UA.

After players went to Oyen's bosses asking for a change, though, Oyen offered to resign.

Byrne assured candidates that, with a rare exception, he doesn't meet with players to discuss their coach without the coach's knowledge.

"I can't speak to why the previous coaches weren't super successful there," Amato said. "I am confident that if you're a strong leader, you can have success."

Amato grew up in Pennsylvania - he still heads to Philadelphia to watch his favorite sports teams - before moving to Naples, Fla., for high school.

It was hard for him to depart his alma mater for Nacogdoches, Texas, but even more gut-wrenching to leave his SFA players after only three years.

"They were crying, and they made me cry - and I'm not really a crier," he said. "It is the worst thing to leave a kid."

Amato, who will return to Tucson next week and start recruiting after Christmas, doesn't plan on doing it again any time soon.

"We know," he said, "that Arizona's the job opportunity, and the setting, we ultimately want to be in."