clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Top 30 Greatest UCF Head Coaches: #20-11

Some Hoops Coaches and an Olympian join the list

Belgium v United States Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

A lot has changed since the world emerged from the COVID-19 lockdowns, which was the last time we ranked the UCF Knights head coaches of years past.

In just three years, several coaches have added to their legacies, while others burst onto the scene and made their presence felt.

With UCF getting ready for its first year as a member of the Big 12 (and in the Sun Belt in Men’s Soccer), it’s time the count down the Top 30 Head Coaches in UCF History.

Criteria used to create this list include:

  • A coach’s impact on their respective sport and on the school (Induction in the UCF Athletics Hall of Fame automatically places a coach on this list)
  • Accomplishments during their tenure
  • Accolades they received during their tenure

We made sure to include at least one coach from every current UCF sport.

In case you missed #30-21. click the link below to check them out:

Top 30 UCF Greatest Head Coaches: #30-21

Now, let’s continue the countdown:

#20 - Dana Boone (Track and Field)

After a setback season in 2018, the UCF Track and Field program brought in Dana Boone.

In her five years with the program (briefly interrupted by COVID), she built the Knights back up to a program that could win back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 2013.

Under Boone, the track and field team took home four consecutive American Athletic Conference titles in its final two years in the conference and, in the process, set a new AAC Outdoor Championship points record (163, 2022 and 2023). Along the way, Boone also won four consecutive AAC Coaching Staff of the Year awards.

Specifically in charge of the sprinters, relays and hurdlers, Boone guided Rayniah Jones to the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championships to become the first individual UCF athlete to make an NCAA Championship since Anne-Marie Blaney in 2017. Jones also ended up as the first UCF athlete to medal at an NCAA Championship since 2013.

Boone and her staff have led eight individual athletes and three 4x100-meter relay teams to NCAA Championship appearances. Boone Era athletes have also set 15 program records, including both the indoor and outdoor 400-meter dash, the 100-meter hurdles, the outdoor 200-meter dash and the 4x400-meter relay.

Entering 2024, Boone makes a return to the Big 12 Conference, as she was an associate head coach at Texas Tech before coming to Orlando.

#19 - Todd Dagenais (Volleyball)

UCF Volleyball head coach Todd Dagenais (Photo: Derek Warden)
UCF Volleyball head coach Todd Dagenais (Photo: Derek Warden)
Photo: Derek Warden

Todd Dagenais is the winningest all-time UCF volleyball coach with 308 wins. His tenure with the Knights, spanning 2008-2022, includes six NCAA tournament appearances, along with six American Conference Championships (2014, 2018, 2019-2022) and an appearance in the NIVC in 2017.

Dagenais was named the AAC’s Coach of the Year four times (2014, 2018, 2020 (shared) and 2021).

Nowadays, he is the head coach of a new professional volleyball team based in Atlanta, as part of the Professional Volleyball Federation, which is slated to begin play in 2024.

#18 - Emily Marron (Women’s Golf)

Courtesy of UCF Athletics

Since taking over at UCF in 2012, Emily Marron has led the Knights (as a team) to eight NCAA Tournament Appearances, two conference titles (2015 and 2017) and an NCAA Regional Title in 2019.

Marron Era players and teams hold the program records for the lowest 18-hole individual and team score, lowest 54-hole individual and team score and the lowest career and single-season scoring average in program history.

In 2019, Marron led UCF to the NCAA National Championship for the second time in program history. The Knights won two tournaments that season, the Princess Anne Invitational and the Moon Golf Invitational. UCF also had four top-five finishes, including second at The AAC Championship.

The Knights were ranked 51st at the end of the regular season and earned a berth to the NCAA West Regional in Cle Elum, Washington. UCF shot eight-under on the final nine holes on the last day to head to the National Championship in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where they finished 22nd.

Marron was named American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2015 and 2017.

In 2017, the Knights took the AAC title and swept the conference’s major awards. UCF was also ranked in the Top 25 for much of the season and finished 28th in the final Golfweek rankings.

In 2015, Marron led the Knights to the AAC title by eight shots for their first conference title since 2000. UCF was ranked in the Top 25 throughout most of the season, including a program-best #15 ranking in the preseason. UCF also posted five top-5 finishes in 10 events that season.

#17 - Kirk Speraw (Men’s Basketball)

NCAA Basketball: Central Florida at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UCF hired Speraw as its men’s basketball head coach in 1993. He took a team that finished 10–17 in the previous season to a 21–9 finish, an ASUN Tournament title, and the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in that first season.

The Speraw Era included four NCAA Tournament berths (1994, 1996, 2004 and 2005). In 2006-07, he was recognized as Conference USA Coach of the Year after guiding the Knights to an improbable 22 victories and a second-place league finish.

His most successful season at UCF was in 2003-04, when the Knights finished 25-6, received votes in the top 25 and won the ASUN championship for the first time in eight years, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Speraw’s teams posted 20 wins or more five times. To put that in perspective, the UCF Men’s Basketball program had gone 96–180 (.347) in the ten seasons before his arrival, including only one season with a winning record. The most wins any UCF team had in a Division I season prior to Speraw’s arrival was 10.

The Speraw era came to an end after the 2010 season when UCF parted ways with him. Speraw spent 12 years as an assistant coach at Iowa (2010-2022) on Fran McCaffery’s staff that won the 2022 Big Ten Tournament championship, which was Speraw’s last, as he retired following the season.

#16 - Scott Calabrese (Men’s Soccer)

Scott Calabrese Men’s Soccer American Championship Photo: Derek Warden

Scott Calabrese has guided the Knights to three American Athletic Conference regular season titles and NCAA Tournament appearances (2018, 2019, and Spring 2021).

2019 was the best season in program history as the Knights posted a 15-3-2 record and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, the farthest the program has ever gone. The 15 wins tied a program high and was the highest win total in UCF’s Division I history.

Calabrese and staff also earned the American Athletic Conference Coaching Staff of the Year award for a second consecutive season. They went 16 straight matches without a loss, beating the previous record of 10 which was set the previous season. The Knights also picked up their second straight national seed ahead of the NCAA Tournament, checking in at #9. In the second round, the Knights defeated Missouri State 2-1 in overtime, marking the first time that UCF had advanced to the third round of the tournament.

The Knights would repeat that effort in the Spring 2021 season, taking the AAC regular season title and making the Sweet 16 once again. This time, the Knights took down future Sun Belt Conference mate James Madison, 2-1, in their second-round match. However, they would also add an AAC Tournament title to the mix, marking the program’s first conference tournament title since 2004.

Two Calabrese Era players (Cal Jennings and Matias Pyysalo) scored over 30 goals for their careers, something no UCF player had done since the turn of the millennium, and five have been selected in the MLS SuperDraft (Jennings, Jonathan Dean, Nick Taylor, Yanis Leerman and Gino Vivi).

#15 - Johnny Dawkins (Men’s Basketball)

Derek Warden

Johnny Dawkins was named UCF’s seventh head men’s basketball coach on March 23, 2016, and in four seasons Dawkins has led the program to new heights. UCF has been to one NCAA Tournament appearance (2019) and two NIT appearances (2017 and 2023).

Dawkins took over at UCF at a time when the Knights hadn’t finished above .500 since 2012-13. In his first year, he led the Knights to a 24-12 record, which was the sixth-best turnaround in the nation, and that was with just seven scholarship players on the roster due to transfers and injuries. UCF made it to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden.

Dawkins also earned UCF its first at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19. It was the first time UCF had been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005. The Knights were a #9 seed in the tourney, their highest seed in five appearances, and beat #8-seeded VCU, 73-58, for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

UCF then came inches away from upsetting top overall seed Duke in the second round, ultimately falling 77-76 to Mike Krzyzewski, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and company as BJ Taylor’s floater rimmed out and Aubrey Dawkins’ tip-in barely missed at the buzzer.

UCF finished the year 24-9, tied for the fourth most wins in a single season in program history. They cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2011, earning a ranking of 25th late in the regular season. It was the latest into a season that the Knights have ever been ranked.

Dawkins has won 60% of his games which is second best all-time in school history, only behind Torchy Clark.

This past season, Dawkins brought in and coached Taylor Hendricks, who went on to become UCF‘s first NBA Draft lottery pick, going ninth overall to the Utah Jazz. The Knights made it to the second round of the NIT with a win at Florida.

#14 - Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak (Women’s Soccer)

SheBelieves Press Conference USWNT Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak took over for long-time head coach Amanda Cromwell in 2013 and has continued UCF’s success on the pitch. Sahaydak is a four-time American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year (2013, 2014, 2017 and 2022) and has led the Knights to four AAC Championships (2013, 2014 and 2017) and five trips to the NCAA Tournament (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2022) including a Sweet 16 run in 2014.

Sahaydak played for the U.S. Women’s National Team and won an Olympic gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta and the World Cup in 1999. Roberts Sahaydak played for North Carolina in college, winning two national championships (1996 and 1997) while finishing 3rd for the 1998 Herman Award, which goes to the best college soccer player.

Sahaydak is representing UCF in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand as an assistant coach for the U.S. National team under Vlatko Andonovski. Three Sahaydak Era players are also participating in the World Cup on the pitch, Kathellen Sousa (Brazil) and Konya Palmer (Jamaica) are making their second World Cup appearances while incoming freshman Genesis Perez-Watson (Costa Rica) is making her first World Cup trip.

#13 - Caryl Smith Gilbert (Track & Field/Cross Country)

Caryl Smith Gilbert served as the head coach for the Knights for six seasons (2008-2013) and led UCF to four straight Conference USA outdoor championships (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and two indoor C-USA championships (2011, 2013).

During her time at UCF, Gilbert was named CUSA Outdoor Coach of the Year four times (2010-2013), CUSA Indoor Coach of Year twice (2011 and 2013), the USTFCCCA’s South Region Outdoor Track and Field Coach of the Year four times (2009, 2011-2013) and the USTFCCCA’s South Region Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year twice (2011 and 2013).

In 2013, the Knights earned a program-best fifth-place finish at both the 2013 NCAA Track and Field Outdoor and Indoor Championships, posting the best finish by a power conference team since 2000. Smith coached UCF’s first National Champion in Aurieyall Scott, along with Octavious Freeman, Anne Marie-Blaney, Jackie Coward, and 2012 Olympian Afia Charles.

UCF finished in the top 20 three times in the NCAA Outdoor Championships under Gilbert with a 17th-place finish in 2011 and a 19th-place finish in 2012. UCF also finished 8th in the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships following a 21st-place finish in 2011.

Gilbert left UCF after 2013 to become the Director of Track and Field at USC (2013-2021), where she ran both the Trojans’ Women’s and Men’s Track and Field teams. Gilbert led USC’s Women’s team to the 2018 and 2021 NCAA outdoor team championships and was the National Women’s Coach of the Year both in of those seasons.

Nowadays, she is coming off of her second season as the Director of Men’s and Women’s Track and Field at Georgia.

#12 - Katie Abrahamson-Henderson (Women’s Basketball)

Coach Abe Photo: Derek Warden

Coach “Abe” led UCF to the greatest era of UCF Women’s Basketball. Abe led UCF to five straight postseason appearances with three NCAA Tournaments (19,21-22) and two NITs (17-18).

Her last season at UCF was a historic one, winning a school record 26 games and guiding the Knights to their first-ever NCAA Tournament in a first-round win against Florida. UCF also earned its highest-ever NCAA Tournament seeding at No. 7.

She’s won 20 games in each of her first four seasons - something UCF has never done since joining Division I.

Nowadays, she is entering her second season as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs women’s basketball team.

#11 - Jay Bergman (Baseball)

Jay Bergman was UCF Head Baseball Coach for 26 seasons
Orlando Sentinel

Jay Bergman was the Head Baseball Coach at UCF from 1983-2008, leading the Knights to eight ASUN Championships (1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000-2002, 2004) and nine NCAA Tournament Regional Appearances (89, 93, 95-97, 00- 02, 04). He brought UCF to a national ranking of No. 7 in 2001 where UCF was a No. 1 regional seed but was sent to South Carolina, where the Knights were one win away from reaching a Super Regional. That 2001 team is considered Bergman’s best, led by Jason Arnold and Justin Pope on the mound. Unfortunately, the Knights fell short in the regional final.

Overall, UCF made three regional finals (2000, 2001, 2004) under Bergman.

In honor of his long-term success with the Knights, UCF named its baseball stadium after him when Jay Bergman Field opened in 2001.

But the Bergman era did not end well, as he was forced out at UCF with 10 games left in the 2008 season after being accused of harassing an equipment manager. He was originally fired but reached a settlement that allowed him to retire.

Bergman’s record at UCF was 994–594–3, winning 40 games or more in a season 15 times with only two losing seasons.