Though Jill Ellis’ decision Tuesday to step down as the United States women’s national team coach after five years came as a surprise to some, she said leaving the role was no quick decision.
“This is a decision that I came to over time and just took a few days recently to finalize,” Ellis said during a conference call a few hours after U.S. Soccer announced her departure, first reported by The Equalizer.
Ellis said she had conversations with her family in December and January about the decision, believing “perhaps this would be a good time to make a change.”
Ellis will stay on as coach for the next five matches, which are part of the team’s victory tour after its second consecutive World Cup triumph. Her final match will come less than a year before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where the team is expected to medal after a disappointing 2016 tournament that saw the U.S. lose in the quarterfinals.
“The timing of this is, I think, not just good for me on a personal level, but also for the program in terms of preparing to start a new cycle,” Ellis said.
She also said that with her Olympics experiences in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 as an assistant to Pia Sundhage’s gold medal U.S. teams, as well as Rio de Janeiro in 2016, she’s satisfied with her accomplishments at the tournament. She does not considered the 2016 result “unfinished business.”
“[The Olympic quarterfinal loss] was probably the catalyst to 2019 in my mind, in terms of what it showed me, what you told me, what it reminded me, what it forced me,” Ellis said. “We [had] to look at this and soup to nuts, we [had] to look at it. Not just in personnel, but some tactics from even processes to personnel.”
Ellis will remain with U.S. Soccer for at least another year as an official ambassador. She also spoke to U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro about offering her full support to whoever is hired as her successor.
“I had a conversation with Carlos and I said to him, ‘It’s very important for me to make sure that whoever is next has my full support,” Ellis said, adding that as part of a “rare” group of people to have coached the U.S. women’s team, “I want whoever comes next to know that there will be that support.”
Ellis was the eighth head coach of the team, but only the third woman to lead it. She has spoken before about the lack of opportunities for female coaches in soccer and said Tuesday she would like her successor to be a woman. She believes the same for the role of the general manager, which is expected to be filled soon.
“Would I like to see it be a female? Of course,” Ellis said. “I think there are a lot of qualified and talented females. I think you saw that in the World Cup, just in terms of the teams that went through that.”
Above all, though, Ellis would like U.S. Soccer to take the process of hiring a new coach and a general manager very seriously, even if it that means slowly.
“The federation will do their due diligence to ensure ultimately that it is someone who is prepared, ready and experienced at this level,” Ellis said. “It is a very unique level, international football. It’s challenging.”
For now, though, Ellis has no immediate plans outside of finishing out her tenure and the ambassador role.
“I don’t have something set in my head or on my mind right now,” Ellis said. “I think that when you go through something intensive and been doing it for so long — like I said, since 2008, this has been a part of my life — I just need to take a step back and take it all in and see what is it that next intrigues me and piques my interest.”