Until this summer, Jill Ellis went unnoticed around Palmetto Bay as she dropped off her daughter, Lily, at Coral Reef Elementary School, ran errands and stopped at Starbucks for coffee.
But it’s hard to remain anonymous after you coach the U.S. Women’s World Cup team to its first championship in 16 years, get national TV exposure for weeks, ride in a ticker-tape parade in New York City and get a phone call from the president of the United States.
When Ellis returned to South Florida, she found a pair of TV trucks on her front lawn and has been swamped with requests for autographs and public appearances. The Marlins have asked her to throw out a first pitch in an upcoming game. On Wednesday morning, just hours after signing a multiyear contract extension with the U.S. Soccer Federation, Ellis was standing before the Miami-Dade County School Board, receiving a proclamation for her achievement.
Never miss a local story.
Among those on hand for the occasion were her 10-year-old daughter, who proudly wore Ellis’ gold medal around her neck, Coral Reef Elementary principal Christina Guerra, athletic directors from Coral Reef High and Dr. Krop High, and several youth soccer players.
“I think I might be invited back for Career Day now,” Ellis said. “Lily has obviously enjoyed all of this, going on the field after, riding on a float in the parade. I don’t think she really grasps the extent of it now, but I think she definitely had one of the most unique summers for a fifth-grader and will have a lot to talk about on the first day of school.”
It wasn’t until after the World Cup, when she heard 25.4 million Americans had tuned into the thrilling 5-2 final win over Japan, that Ellis began to realize the magnitude of her team’s achievement. It was reaffirmed by the huge crowds that showed up at a rally in Los Angeles, the New York parade, and the 39,000 fans who have already purchased tickets for the opening game of team’s 10-game Victory Tour, against Costa Rica at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Aug. 16.
“I really did just keep my head down, never really went online, completely immersed myself in what I was doing during the World Cup, so I had no idea how much we were being followed,” Ellis said. “We went to L.A. for a victory rally, and I thought to myself, ‘OK, L.A., middle of the morning, nobody’s going to come.’ And then 10,000 people show up. That’s when it kind of struck me that this really has affected people.’’
She has been recognized by TSA agents at airport security checkpoints and by fans on the street. A fellow passenger on a flight passed down to Ellis a magazine article about star player Carli Lloyd. A giant “Congratulations Jill Ellis” banner with an American flag hangs outside Coral Reef Elementary. Ellis, her partner, Betsy Stephenson, development director for sports medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Lily posed for family photos by the banner.
“Nobody had a clue who I was before, and I kind of liked that,” Ellis said. “But I can certainly deal with being recognized because it was the fallout from winning the World Cup, which was a privilege, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. I couldn’t imagine being a huge celebrity, the likes of a movie star because it is a little much at times. I got home and there were news trucks at the house. I was like, ‘Wow, this is strange.’’’
Ellis will remain in the spotlight for several more years, through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 2019 World Cup in France. On Wednesday, it was announced she had signed a multiyear contract extension. Ellis, 48, took over as coach on May 16, 2014, weathered harsh criticism early in the World Cup but wound up leading the team to its first Cup win since 1999. Her base salary was around $200,000, according to USSF documents, and she received bonuses for significant victories. Terms of her new contract were not announced and won’t become public until next year.
“When we hired Jill, we all knew the great challenge that was ahead of her and the team,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “She met that challenge with tremendous passion and knowledge to win what was perhaps the most difficult Women’s World Cup tournament in history. As we look towards the Rio Olympics and build towards the 2019 World Cup in France, we think Jill is the ideal person to lead the next generation of the Women’s National Team.”
Ellis, who was born in England and moved to the United States at 15, said she was “delighted to continue” developing the team and being a role model to coaches — particularly female coaches.
“I don’t think about gender when it comes to my coaching, but I have had a lot of people walk up to me and say, ‘It’s nice to see a female coach win the World Cup,’’’ Ellis said. “Whether you like it or not, you become a role model to young coaches out there, and I embrace that. It’s a great privilege.”
Ellis is already planning for the Olympics and hasn’t had much time to relax since raising the Cup on July 5. She visited her parents for a few days in Central Florida, vacationed in the Keys, attended a victory party thrown by UM women’s basketball coach Katie Meier and spent four days in Virginia for the wedding of her best friend, Julie Shackford, the longtime Princeton soccer coach, who moved her wedding date when Ellis informed her it was in the middle of the World Cup.
Ellis was an English Literature and composition major at William & Mary. She said she could not have written a better script for this summer.
“You imagine what it would feel like to win a World Cup, and then to actually do it, that feeling of accomplishment is just incredible, mind-blowing.’’