PASADENA, Calif. — Jill Ellis likened her tenure in charge of the U.S. women’s national team to an amusement park ride. She also compared it to a tumultuous ride on a five-year wave.
The most successful head coach in program history seems quite content to get off this merry-go-round on her own terms.
Ellis was upbeat Friday when she joined her players at the Rose Bowl for their first workout ahead of a five-game exhibition Victory Tour designed to bring the World Cup winners to their legions of domestic fans. The tour got a slight damper Tuesday when Ellis announced she will step down at its conclusion.
Before her team’s first game since her decision, the only two-time Women’s World Cup-winning coach expressed pride in her work and optimism for the future without her, starting with the Tokyo Olympics next year.
But more than anything else, Ellis exuded calm about her decision to walk away on top.
“When I took the job … it was the beginning of a cycle, and now I feel like this is the end of a cycle,” Ellis said. “I know the Olympics is very close, but that begins another cycle, if that makes sense. I think the timing is now. … I mean, five and a half years is kind of a long time in this job, which has been great and such a privilege. But I didn’t give much consideration to coaching next year.”
Ellis likely could have stayed on through Tokyo, but decided to give a head start to her successor. She had a few words of advice for whoever steps into her large shoes.
“It’s a roller coaster. Put your seatbelt on,” Ellis said with a grin. “Enjoy the ride, because you’re going to expect highs and lows. It’s the wave analogy. It’s the trough and the crest. You can’t have a beautiful ocean without both of those. You can’t have this journey without all the highs and lows.”
The 52-year-old Ellis lost exactly seven of her 127 games since May 2014, winning eight tournaments and half of the nation’s four World Cup titles. When her team raised the trophy last month in France, the Americans reaffirmed their status as the world’s dominant program.
“Well, I’m selfishly sad,” World Cup hero Rose Lavelle said. “I’ve really enjoyed having her as a coach. I feel like I’ve grown so much the past three years, and I’m sad, but I’m happy she went out on top and now has some time with her family to enjoy.”
No coach can match Ellis’ international accomplishments, yet she still faced near-constant scrutiny for her tactics, lineup decisions and substitution patterns – even from former and current players for a team that never lost a game at two World Cups.
Megan Rapinoe said she “wasn’t super surprised” by Ellis’ decision.
“It’s obviously a very difficult job to have, and to be able to go out on top is obviously a nice way to go,” the Golden Ball winner added.
Christen Press praised Ellis for her ability to create a structured training environment similar to the stability of a men’s club team – a difficult feat given the unstable, traveling nature of national teams.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that any program in any sport would have this level of meticulous detail and control,” Press said. “I think Jill was able to do that because she was in the system before she was the head coach. We’re taking everything that we do on the road, so every single training facility is different. When you have a meeting is different. What you’re eating is different. It’s the head coach’s job to oversee that, and it was such a seamless thing for us. We could really focus.”
After this tour ends Oct. 6 in Chicago, Ellis will spend at least the next year working for U.S. Soccer as an ambassador. That hasn’t stopped widespread speculation about her long-term plans, but Ellis isn’t sharing in it.
“I haven’t given any thought to my future, I really haven’t,” Ellis said. “I just felt the timing was right. The timing is right for whoever the new coach is. The timing was right for me on a personal level with my family. I’m going to still be working in a capacity for a while for U.S. Soccer, so I haven’t even thought about coaching another team at this point. “
The U.S. women are opening the tour with the team’s fifth-ever game at the famed Rose Bowl, where they won the World Cup in 1999 on Brandi Chastain’s penalty shot. A statue of Chastain celebrating her goal was dedicated outside the stadium last month.
Rapinoe and Alex Morgan won’t play in the tour opener at the Rose Bowl while they recover from minor injuries.