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Jill Ellis on 2017 USWNT player revolt: ‘It was hard on everybody’

Kelley O'Hara and Jill Ellis interact during a USWNT game in 2016. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Jill Ellis, the most successful head coach in United States women’s national team history, won back-to-back World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019.

Through all of the successes, Ellis also endured plenty of ups and downs during her tenure. Notably, in 2017, a handful of USWNT players went to then-U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to call for her firing.

The players were motivated in part by the coach’s eagerness to add new players to the USWNT’s veteran core, Ellis says on the debut episode of “The Players’ Pod.”

“I don’t think we grow… if we don’t go through this process,” Ellis tells host Kelley O’Hara of the team’s development.

O’Hara says she disagreed with the call for Ellis’ ouster and believed there were other reasons for the team’s culture issues at the time.

“My biggest thing at the moment was, ‘Tell me you’ve brought your best, and then we can look elsewhere,'” O’Hara says she told the players. “A lot of players actually came to me after the fact and said, ‘You’re right.'”

Ellis says she saw the revolt coming, as it happened to nearly every other national team manager. She asked then-captains Becky Sauerbrunn and Carli Lloyd to warn her if the players were planning to approach Gulati because she did not want to be blindsided.

“To be fair, they came to me and they told me,” Ellis says.

The conflict came to a head just before a USWNT loss to Australia. Before the game, Ellis addressed the issue with the team directly.

“I’m not someone to live in the shadows,” Ellis says, with O’Hara reminding the coach that she started someone else over her on the backline.

“There’s going to be some strong voices, but make sure everybody has a voice,” Ellis says she told Gulati. “There are some people that are suffering because their role has changed, or maybe they’ve been pushed aside a little bit for making room for other people, but at the end of the day, there are also people that are really appreciative of this change and transition.”

O’Hara admits she believed Ellis to have flaws like any other coach, but she commended her for her commitment to bringing in new talent.

“You have to evolve,” O’Hara tells Ellis. “I respect you a lot for going through with that.”

Listen to the full conversation between O’Hara and Ellis on “The Players’ Pod.”