'Honour of a lifetime' to coach US women: Jill Ellis

US coach Jill Ellis at a victory parade last month to celebrate her team winning the Women's World Cup. In her 51/2-year tenure, she led her team to two World Cups and became the first coach to win consecutive titles since the tournament began in 199
US coach Jill Ellis at a victory parade last month to celebrate her team winning the Women's World Cup. In her 51/2-year tenure, she led her team to two World Cups and became the first coach to win consecutive titles since the tournament began in 1991.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ellis to step down from role and says change will be good for World Cup-winning team

NEW YORK • Jill Ellis knew last Christmas.

She knew she had done almost everything she had wanted to do as coach of the United States women's football team, knew she had taken their players about as far as she could.

She knew what it felt like to lift the World Cup trophy, what it felt like to compete at the Olympics, and knew it would be wonderful to experience those feelings again.

But she also knew that every coach, and every team, eventually runs its course, and she could sense that her time was nearly up.

So around Christmas last year, Ellis began to talk to her family about leaving her job as coach of the world's best women's side.

"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," said the 52-year-old.

"Change is good, new perspective, different lens."

On Tuesday, Ellis made public the decision she had reached privately months ago. She will step down after the world champions complete a five-game victory tour this autumn, and let a new coach lead the team in their quest for gold at next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Her announcement came less than a month after the Americans won their second straight Women's World Cup title under her - a raucous confetti-strewn, champagne-soaked confirmation that the US had been restored to their position as the pre-eminent force in women's football.

The English-born tactician also revealed she still would have decided to walk away even if her players had not won in France. But she has no firm plans about what she will do next beyond the "ambassador" role she has accepted from governing body US Soccer.

"The opportunity to coach this team and work with these amazing women has been the honour of a lifetime," she said in a statement.

The daughter of a football coach and the sister of another, she took up the sport only after moving to the US from England as a teenager and rose to become the only woman to have led teams to successive World Cup triumphs.

Her players emerged victorious last month with a 100 per cent record and in fact, Ellis' teams have never lost a game on the biggest stage - both in France and in Canada four years ago.

Her overall record of 102 wins, seven losses and 18 draws with the US reflects the talent she had to work with and her ability to harness and focus it.

Her 51/2-year tenure has coincided with a tumultuous time for the US team, who fought with Fifa over artificial turf pitches before the 2015 World Cup.

They have also endured public criticism after national anthem protests by Golden Ball winner Megan Rapinoe and have been engaged in a multi-year battle with US Soccer over pay equity that led to more than two dozen players filing a federal gender discrimination lawsuit this year.

Most recently, the team have also become embroiled in a war of words on social media featuring Rapinoe and US President Donald Trump.

But Ellis navigated it all with the same approach that made her an effective coach. She stayed out of the fray, expressing support for her players, while avoiding antagonising her bosses at the federation.

In many ways, her tactics in brushing aside distractions mirrored her coaching style, taking upon herself criticism of the team's failings - notably a humiliating quarter-final exit at the 2016 Olympics - and giving her veteran players a wide berth to express their views and their personalities.

In return, her players have rewarded her trust, and her loyalty to them, with excellence, and US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro believes the sport owes Ellis a debt of gratitude for all that she has done.

He said: "She helped raise the bar for women's soccer in the US and the world, and given the history of this programme, the level of success she achieved is even more remarkable."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline ''Honour of a lifetime' to coach U.S. women'. Print Edition | Subscribe