Sometime very soon, Tony Amato will become the winningest soccer coach in Arizona Wildcats history. He’s just not there yet.
Amato’s 57 wins are second in program history behind Dan Tobias’ 58, according to Star research confirmed by the UA Friday morning.
The UA athletic department had declared Amato the winningest coach in program history after his team beat Houston Baptist on Sunday. The discrepancy: UA record-keepers had credited three wins earned by Tobias in 2009 to interim coaches. Tobias resigned midseason while carrying a 3-9 record.
Amato got to No. 57 on Friday, when the Wildcats (3-1) routed on Southeast Missouri State 5-0 at the Sun Devil Desert Classic in Tempe. He can tie Tobias’ mark by winning again Sunday against New Hampshire in Tempe, and break it if Arizona beats Boise State next week in Tucson.
While the accomplishment is something other coaches dream of, Amato has his sights set on something bigger. The sixth-year coach hopes to improve the program further and leave a legacy for future players and coaches.
Amato credits his assistant coaches, staff, players and others who made the soccer program into what it is today. Amato is 57-36-13 in his UA career; he came from Stephen F. Austin, where he led the Ladyjacks to a 45-12-3 mark in three seasons.
“All these people helped lift the program to a new level, so I feel like it helps recognize all of them,” he said. “Because no matter what I do, if the sports staff are working against me, if the assistant coaches are working against me, if the players aren’t buying in, we aren’t going to win games.”
Amato, 40, praised longtime assistant coach Paul Nagy, who has worked with him at both Stephen F. Austin and Rollins College before coming to the UA.
“Paul has been there every step of the way,” Amato said. “I met him in Orlando coaching and he came with me to SFA, he was with me for every win there and he’s been with me for every win here — that’s really important to me.”
Nagy said it’s Amato who deserves the credit, even though the head coach has been sharing it with everyone else. Amato took over for Lisa Oyen, who coached three seasons after taking over for Tobias midway through the 2009 season.
“The thing about Tony is that he grinds,” Nagy said. “It’s easy to stay where you’re at but he keeps progressing at every level. It’s not just on the field as a coach. It’s in the marketing department, on social media … he challenges and pushes every aspect of the program to be elite.”
When Amato took over in 2013, some wondered how he would adjust at his first major-college job. Amato says the program has transformed over the last five years. His teams have made the NCAA Tournament three times in the last four seasons. Last year’s Wildcats went 11-5-4, finishing fourth in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their seven conference wins were a school record.
“The fact that we’ve hit that milestone in five seasons, I think says we’re in a good place. But we still have a lot we want to achieve,” he said. “I’m not sure people five years ago when we got here had any conviction of that.”