Jill Ellis is the new head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, but through various roles spanning more than a decade, she is anything but new to the program and the players.
Ellis, 47, served two stints as the interim coach, assisted with two gold medal-winning squads and worked in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s development system for 14 years. Almost every current national team player served under Ellis at one point or another on the youth squads.
“My familiarity with the players is a huge plus for me,” she said Friday after the USSF announced her appointment. “I’ve worked with these players in the youth and I’ve seen younger players integrate with the veterans. So I have a good feel for the players.”
Ellis succeeds Tom Sermanni, who was abruptly fired after just 16 months on the job because the USSF wasn’t comfortable with the program’s direction heading toward the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Upon Sermanni’s dismissal, Ellis accepted the interim job and guided the Americans to victories in two friendlies. She also filled in between Pia Sundhage‘s departure and Sermanni’s hiring in the fall of 2012.
The USSF selected Ellis over Sweden’s Tony Gustavsson, a former U.S. assistant, and Tony DiCicco, who oversaw the 1999 World Cup championship team. Interviews were conducted by USSF President Sunil Gulati, federation executive Dan Flynn and technical director April Heinrichs.
Ellis was born in England but moved to the Washington area in her teens and starred for Robinson High School, the Braddock Road Youth Club and William & Mary. She was an assistant coach for the Virginia and Maryland women’s programs. In 2011, she was inducted into the Virginia-DC Soccer Hall of Fame.
While working in the U.S. youth system, she also led UCLA to eight final four appearances in 12 years. She left the Bruins program after the 2010 season to become the USSF’s women’s development director.
“Jill has got all of the right credentials, both in terms of experience and how she relates to the players – we’ve seen that first hand in the two times she has been with the senior team and with our youth teams,” Gulati said. “She gets top marks in all the work she has been doing on the technical side with all of our programs.”
Ellis’s first assignments in the upgraded position are two friendlies against France, June 14 in Tampa and June 19 in East Hartford, Conn. Long term, she has her eye on this fall’s World Cup qualifying tournament, which will now take place in the United States after Mexico withdrew because of venue issues. CONCACAF, which announced the change Friday, will probably select the U.S. stadiums in four to six weeks, Gulati said.
The United States has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals but hasn’t claimed the World Cup title since 1999.
“I know the expectation, embrace the expectation, know we want to win, and I know this group is capable of winning,” she said. “That is what we want. It is always the expectation.”
In 2012, Ellis withdrew from consideration for the head coaching job because, she said, “I didn’t think the timing was right.”
This time, however, “I just recognize this is a unique opportunity and it just felt right. My energy is there and the excitement of moving forward with this group is a huge honor.”