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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Coach Becky Burleigh to retire after spring season

Burleigh spent 26 years at the helm of Florida’s soccer program, winning a national championship in 1998

The Becky Burleigh era at Florida will come to an end after the completion of the season.
The Becky Burleigh era at Florida will come to an end after the completion of the season.

A short time ago, a Zoom call wouldn’t be how one would imagine one of the most celebrated coaches in NCAA women’s soccer history would announce her retirement.

But in the strange times the world lives in, UF coach Becky Burleigh appeared before the media virtually. She wore a black long-sleeved shirt with “equality” painted in white on the front. 

The casual attire reflected her gameday look, but the moment was far from it. And at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Burleigh shared that she will retire after the spring season.

A coach who is usually on top of everything and active, Burleigh seemed somewhat put back as she sat in front of an empty Donald R. Dizney Stadium, the place where her team succeeded over the years. 

The Tarpon Springs, Florida, native was the first — and only — head coach in program history. She was hired by former athletic director Jeremy Foley in 1994 after five seasons and two National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championships at Floyd County, Georgia’s Berry College. The Gators’ program took off after her hiring and rarely fell. 

Burleigh's list of accomplishments is among the longest in collegiate soccer. A national championship, 14 SEC regular season titles and 12 SEC tournament crowns are just some of the hardware littering her trophy case. 

The law of conservation of mass states that matter is neither created nor destroyed. It seems like Burleigh skipped science class the day it was taught because she constructed a national championship in only four years.

The height of her tenure remains 1998 when Florida won the College Cup. She already looked to be one of the most promising young coaches in the country, previously winning the SEC Championship in ‘96 and ‘97, but this win was a sign of things to come for the program.

In the final, the Gators defeated North Carolina, who beat them the year prior. 

One of Burleigh’s main focuses was player development, which is clear with the 37 All-Americans selected during her tenure. Her focus on her squad, not just as players but also as people, is evident with 174 SEC Honor Roll selections. 

The focus on talent development has paid dividends for her player’s international careers. U.S. international defender Heather Mitts, forward Danielle Fotopoulos and Canadian international forward Deanne Rose are just some of the names who played under Burleigh. 

Despite the three world champions and four Olympic medalists who played for Burleigh, there will forever be one who stands head and shoulders above Gators past and present: Abby Wambach. Wambach left Florida with five school records. She retired in 2015 as the highest scorer in American women’s soccer history and holds the second-most goals scored in men’s or women’s international soccer.

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The decision to retire wasn’t easy for Burleigh. When you spend 26 years of your life building something from the ground up, it shouldn’t be. She has been a coach for more than half of her life. 

"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," she said. 

Holding onto the news for about a month, Burleigh told the media she decided on her future shortly after the holidays but broke the news to the team after practice Saturday morning. 

She said the players felt a variety of emotions, but the coach assured them that she would be there for them, not only during the transition to whoever fills the post, but also in their lives. This highlights her idea of “person>player” and how her athletes are so much more beyond the orange-and-blue kits. 

Over the years, Burleigh’s Florida sides developed into some of the country’s most progressive teams. It wasn’t just about winning — but how they won. 

In college, coaches frequently try to play a straightforward style due to their players’ rawness. In soccer, there are a variety of tactical outlooks on how the game should be played. 

When teams play straight-forward, they tend to have their team play the ball forward and on the sidelines so it’s out of dangerous areas. 

Burleigh refused to play this way, playing out of the back and finding the right pass. This style is frequented by top teams usually because of confidence.

Burleigh ruled out any involvement at the professional level. But she’s not going to bid the game farewell any time soon. 

“At this point, I’m just trying to keep my options open in terms of future possibilities,” she said. “I’m really fascinated with high-level performance.” 

Replacing Burleigh will be difficult. With a coach who made it clear how she thought the game should be played, a transition to one who might have a different one could fundamentally shift the program. 

Contact Myles Herbert at and follow him on Twitter @myles_herbert

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