The truly blessed athletes and coaches are the ones who have the opportunity to step away while still on top of their world.
Jill Ellis now knows the feeling.
Less than a month after leading the United States women’s soccer team to the World Cup championship, Ellis has announced she will step down.
“The opportunity to coach this team and work with these amazing women has been the honor of a lifetime,” said Ellis in a statement. “I want to thank and praise them for their commitment and passion to not only win championships but also raise the profile of this sport globally while being an inspiration to those who will follow them.
“I want to sincerely thank the world class coaches and staff with whom I’ve had the privilege to work – they are quintessential professionals and even better people. And finally, I want to thank the Federation for their support and investment in this program, as well as all the former players, coaches, and colleagues that have played an important role in this journey.”
When you think about it, there was really nothing else Ellis could have accomplished. When she took control of the program it was the best in the world. And it remains so now, even after what perhaps was its lowest point, a quarterfinal defeat in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Ellis told the New York Times she began to think about retirement at Christmastime.
“I would say even when I started this job, I kind of felt that this was not a job that someone sits in for 10 years,” Ellis, 52, told The Times. “I think change is good: new perspective, different lens.”
The end will officially come when the USA ends what’s being euphemistically called its victory tour which will include five matches beginning Saturday against Ireland at the Rose Bowl.
There will be a new coach in place when the Americans begin preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.
It will be difficult to find a mentor that could surpass what Ellis accomplished. Her teams won 102 of 127 matches and two World Cup titles. Her teams were 13-0-1 in World Cup play over the last two cycles and outscored their opponents 40-6.
Ellis has coached the national team for the last five-plus years. During her time, her players have taken major causes to the public. First, there was a fight with FIFA over playing on artificial surfaces prior to her initial World Cup in 2015.
The team refused to take the field in for a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago after deciding the artificial surface at the stadium was potentially dangerous.
“We have become so accustomed to playing on whatever surface is put in front of us,” the team wrote in an open letter to The Players’ Tribune. “But we need to realize that our protection — our safety — is priority No. 1.”
This year’s battle was over fair compensation, but it also boiled over into a debate about patriotism after forward Megan Rapinoe staged a national anthem protest and then publicly rebuked President Trump by telling him there was “no f—–g way” the team would go to the White House if invited to attend.
Ellis’ tact was to keep in step with her team, supporting their stances without becoming overly involved.
“I’m really fortunate to have an incredibly professional group of women,” said Ellis before the World Cup. “The players understand that we support them, that we have their backs on and off the field, and we have to be this way. It’s just natural when you come together and go off to try to accomplish something incredibly huge.”
Ellis’ time with the USA program began as a scout during her days as head coach at North Carolina State and UCLA. Her ability was unquestioned; her teams played in eight straight Final Fours.
She was eventually named an assistant on the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and was briefly the national team’s interim coach after the resignation of Pia Sundhage following the 2012 London Olympics. She got the job fulltime when the players became angry playing for Tom Sermanni.
“When I accepted the head coaching position this was the timeframe I envisioned,” said Ellis. “The timing is right to move on and the program is positioned to remain at the pinnacle of women’s soccer. Change is something I have always embraced in my life and for me and my family this is the right moment.”
Ellis will temporarily remain with the program serving as its world ambassador. The search for her successor will begin immediately, but not until it fills its vacant general manager’s job.
“The U.S. Soccer Federation and the sport, in general, owe Jill a debt of gratitude,” said U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro. “Jill was always extremely passionate about this team, analytical, tremendously focused and not afraid to make tough decisions while giving her players the freedom to play to their strengths. She helped raise the bar for women’s soccer in the USA and the world, and given the history of this program, the level of success she achieved is even more remarkable.”
The new head coach will be the ninth in program history, following Mike Ryan, Anson Dorrance, Tony DiCicco, April Heinrichs, Greg Ryan, Sundhage, Sermanni and Ellis.