Had the United States not brought home the World Cup, coach Jill Ellis might have been fired. Hers is one of the few jobs in all of sports where finishing second is considered a failure.
That’s harsh, but being dismissed would not have come as a surprise to the 48-year old coach.
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati left no doubt about where the bar was set when he hired Ellis in May of 2014, after summarily dumping the kindly but plodding Tom Sermanni.
“The marching orders are pretty straightforward,” Gulati said. “And that’s success next summer in Canada [at the World Cup] and in Rio a year later [at the 2016 Summer Olympics].”
Ellis was clear about what Gulati meant by “success.”
“I know the expectation,” she said. “When you work for U.S. Soccer, it is about winning gold medals and being on the first-place podium.”
Coming off that podium in Canada, she’s been rewarded with a new multi-year contract.
Terms weren’t disclosed, but Steven Goff of The Washington Post said Ellis’s new deal is probably for at least five years.
Her old contract, which just expired, gave U.S. Soccer options to retain her for another five years. As a reward for the World Cup triumph, Gulati tore up that contract, and the two sides agreed on an new one. There’s no reason that the new, sweeter deal wouldn’t be for at least as long as the old one.
Her salary wasn’t disclosed, either — though it will be next year, when U.S. Soccer releases its next round of financial statements.
As a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, U.S. Soccer is required to submit certain financial information each year to the Internal Revenue Service, including something called a Form 990. You can see the federation’s past 990s, and accompanying audited financial statements, here.
Ellis was hired at a base salary of $185,000 to $215,000, plus undisclosed incentives, including a bonus for winning the World Cup. (Goff, a very good soccer writer, estimates that the World Cup bonus was $75,000 to $100,000.) Again, there’s no logical reason to think that her new contract isn’t worth significantly more than the one it replaces.
Whatever her new salary is, it’s chump change compared with what Jurgen Klinsmann is paid to coach the U.S. men’s team. When the federation issued its last financial statements, Klinsmann was making $2.5 million a year. He has since signed a new contract.
Even the most ardent advocates for pay equity wouldn’t argue that Ellis and Klinsmann should be paid the same. As Goff notes:
Klinsmann oversees a program that drives sponsorship and TV dollars, and, by playing teams like Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands, attracts global attention. The wild enthusiasm for women’s soccer at home this summer -– and the record TV audience for the final -— was not shared by the rest of the world. On a global level, it remains light years behind men’s soccer.
Still, it’s hard to ignore this:
Ellis, overcoming immense pressure, did her job — she won the damned World Cup — while Klinsmann has failed to meet far less demanding expectations.
No one, including Gulati, seriously expects the U.S. men to be world champs. They’re simply not that good. Not even close.
In the latest FIFA rankings, the American are 29th in the world.
In July of 2011, when Klinsmann took over, the American men were ranked 30th in the world .
(The U.S. women, on the strength of their World Cup title, have regained the No. 1 world ranking they’ve held for most of the past seven years.)
On Klinsmann’s watch, the U.S. men have recorded memorable wins: In February 2012, they beat Italy, a four-time winner of the World Cup, in Genoa. That 1-0 win was the first for the Americans in 11 meetings with Italy, dating back to 1930. When Clint Dempsey put away the game-winner in the 55th minute, he became only the fourth American ever to score against Gli Azzurri.
The U.S. men have also beaten the Netherlands, and Germany twice. And in the 2014 World Cup, the plucky Americans made it out of the group stage and into the round of 16 before losing in overtime to Belgium.
For $2.5 million a year, I think, fans owed more than the occasional upset victory in a friendly, or a World Cup showing to match that of Greece and Switzerland.