Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Kevin Baxter

Jill Ellis embracing new challenges beyond her USWNT coaching days

SAN DIEGO — Jill Ellis showed up for lunch wearing a track suit and a warm smile.

The track suit is what she's worn to work for much of her adult life. The smile, however, is new because for the first time in a dozen years a Women's World Cup is approaching and Ellis isn't under pressure to field a team, develop a game plan, fret over injuries or break down opponents.

And the tournament looks a lot different from that perspective.

"I'm truly excited for it because I just recognized what a major event it is," she said. "I don't miss the preparing piece, but I definitely miss kind of the behind-the-scenes looking at the game and really studying that. I can't just be a fan."

No, she can't be.

After leading the U.S. to consecutive championships, going unbeaten in 14 games, Ellis can't be just anything since her World Cup legacy is secure. Which is why she'll be in Australia for the final stages of this summer's tournament not as a coach or a fan, but as part of the FIFA Legends program and a member of FIFA's technical study group.

That's not to say she won't have a rooting interest. Fourteen members of the U.S. team, which kicks of its title defense July 22 against Vietnam, are women she worked with.

"The things that you miss, you miss the people," Ellis said of her coaching days.

But if those World Cup victories were the crowning achievements of Ellis' career, they weren't the end of it. As president of the San Diego Wave, the second-year NWSL team she helped billionaire investment manager Ronald Burkle build from scratch, Ellis is tackling a different set of demands.

"It was a little bit of opportunity meets a desire to continue growing in some capacity," said Ellis, 56. "I wanted to do something different. When I met with the owner and he talked to me about this vision and I said, 'Why women's soccer?' and he said, 'Well, we're the best in the world. I think this can be a billion-dollar industry. I want to get in on the basement.' "

And if he was getting into the sport because of the national team's excellence, he figured he might as well partner with the woman responsible for that excellence. Ellis wasn't hard to persuade.

"I think you reach a point sometimes in your life that it's not so much about what's ahead of you, it's about what you can do for those that come next. You can still offer a lot to people to help them on their journey by being a resource," she said. "One of the things that I was honestly getting quite tired of hearing was, 'We're losing female coaches, where are they? You know, we don't have enough women making decisions.' So when Ron offered me this role, it was like, I get to hire a female coach and female GM and get women in decision-making positions for our sport."

So she hired former English national team captain Casey Stoney to be her manager and filled her entire front office with women, headed by general manager Molly Downtain, the administrator of the USWNT under Ellis.

"That became almost as motivating or as motivating as going after a world championship. It was like how can you impact the sport?" Ellis continued.

"It just really felt like it was a calling, in a way. Has it been the most challenging thing I've ever done? For sure."

The team she assembled has proved successful, with the Wave becoming the first expansion team in NWSL history to reach the playoffs in its first season. And late in that 2022 season, Ellis oversaw the team's move from the University of San Diego into Snapdragon Stadium, where it drew a league-record crowd of 32,000 for its first game.

That's left her with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction different than the one she felt as a coach.

"I've stepped into a world that is completely out of my wheelhouse. I'm now learning about, you know, investments and profits. It's been very rewarding to see what sport can do," she said.

"When I stepped down from being the women's coach, I stood in front of the players and I said, 'You know, guys, I wouldn't trade one step in this journey. I wouldn't trade the moments that sucked, the moments that stung. I wouldn't trade those because those are a part of this journey.' And it's not just all about the highs. It's about the complexity and the completeness of the journey. I realize it's not about trophies and medals that sit on a shelf and get dusty. It is about the moments that make you feel."

But if she's no longer part of the national team, she's not apart from it either. San Diego placed two players, forward Alex Morgan and defender Naomi Girma, on coach Vlatko Andonovski's World Cup roster. And in midfielder Taylor Kornieck and teenagers Jaedyn Shaw and Melanie Barcenas, the Wave have the kind of talent that will help build out the next World Cup player pool as well.

That gives Ellis a stake in how the U.S. performs in this summer's tournament that goes beyond the fact 14 women on the American roster are players she once coached. It's also why she's cheering for an unprecedented third straight World Cup victory, even if it comes against her native England. (There's really no worry of split allegiances though since Ellis, her brother and parents are all naturalized U.S. citizens.)

"Would I go on the field after the game?" Ellis said, imagining a U.S. victory. "Probably not. That's their moment. That's Vlatko's moment. That's the players' moment."

But wherever she'll be, Ellis is certain she'll be wearing a warm smile.

"I've really enjoyed my journey," she said. "I don't think my journey is over, but I like the path I'm on."

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.