Image Credit: UAA
Nearly three decades after starting the Florida Gators soccer program from scratch, the only head coach who has ever led the team has decided to hang up her whistle. Becky Burleigh, 53, announced Saturday that she will end her 26-year career with the Gators following the second half of the 2020 soccer season, which is being completed in spring 2021.
“It’s something I have been contemplating for a while,” said Burleigh in a statement released by the school. “Once the decision was made, I felt I needed to be as transparent as possible with our current players and future players and put the administration in the best position possible to start the search process.”
Burleigh addressed the players earlier Saturday and then read a statement to Gator Nation.
Originally hired by then-athletic director Jeremy Foley in 1994, Burleigh was the youngest Division I soccer coach in the nation at age 26 when the 1995 season began.
Florida soccer nevertheless went 56-10-3 during its first three seasons under her leadership, and Burleigh quickly led the Gators to the program’s first and only national championship in the fourth season of its existence. The 1998 Florida soccer team went 26-1 with future American soccer legends Abby Wambach, Danielle Fotopoulos and Heather Mitts leading the way to a shocking upset of reigning champion and dominant force North Carolina in the national title game.
Burleigh became the first woman in Division I soccer history to reach 500 wins back on Sept. 15, 2019 and is among the five winningest coaches in the sport’s history. Her all-time record currently stands at 509-159-44, a tremendous .746 winning mark. She is 427-136-38 (.742) leading Florida not counting her five seasons as head coach at Berry, where she won two NAIA national titles despite coaching in her early 20s.
Though Burleigh did not mention the team’s play in her departure announcement, the Gators have taken a step back over the last three seasons. Florida is 2-7-1 through 10 games in 2020-21 and 20-26-6 since the start of the 2018 season, which was the worst in program history (7-10-4).
The Gators advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 22 of Burleigh’s 26 seasons, including 21 times over a 22-year span from 1996-2017. Aside from the national title win in 1998, UF advanced to the Final Four in 2001 with four additional appearances in the Elite Eight and six more in the Sweet 16. The Gators won at least one NCAA Tournament game in 19 of their 22 event appearances but have not done so since 2017.
Florida won 14 SEC championships and 12 SEC Tournament titles under Burleigh, sweeping both crowns over six straight seasons (1996-01) for the most dominant run in conference history. She was the NSCAA National Coach of the Year in 1998 and a four-time SEC Coach of the Year.
Burleigh grew up about two hours away from Gainesville, Florida, in Tarpon Springs. Despite playing and coaching in North Carolina and Georgia, she ultimately returned home to lead the Gators and will be remembered as a legend across the entire athletic program for her long, distinguished and successful career.