San Diego president Ellis: New GM not involved in Stoney firing

San Diego Wave president Jill Ellis said the shocking decision to fire head coach Casey Stoney did not involve the club’s new general manager Camille Ashton, and that it was based on data and the poor form of the team amid a seven-game winless streak.

“We’re an ambitious club,” Ellis told reporters on Tuesday, one day after making the decision. “We want to compete domestically and internationally. Right now, to qualify for the [Concacaf] Champions League, there’s three criteria: win the league, finish second in the league, or win the championship. Where we sit at the moment, we are limiting opportunities.

“It’s never all about numbers. It’s also about how it looks, how it feels, and for sure how it performs. And in sport we don’t live in the past; it’s how we perform in the moment. And in this moment, we felt — again, it’s very hard. We needed an inflection point, so we made a very hard decision to change our head coach and begin a search for a new one.”

Ellis said that the decision to fire Stoney was “made independent of our new general manager” Ashton, who has not yet fully relocated to San Diego. Ashton left her post as general manager of the Kansas City Current in May to take the new job in San Diego, where she will also hold the role of sporting director.

San Diego is currently in the middle of an NWSL record sale process and Ellis consulted the new ownership on the decision to dismiss Stoney.

Billionaire Ron Burkle is in the process of selling the team to the Levine Leichtman family in a two-part transaction that values the team between $113-$120 million.

Paul Buckle, who served as an interim assistant coach for the Wave in 2022 and took his U.S. Soccer Pro License course with Ellis, will serve as the Wave’s interim head coach while the team conducts a search for a new coach.

“My inbox is already full,” Ellis said, adding that the league is very international now, and that fans expect “a team that is working their ass off and getting after it and playing in a way that is exciting and entertaining and built on attacking.”

The Wave’s decision to fire Stoney came as a significant surprise despite the team’s relative struggles. San Diego sits in ninth place, one point outside the playoff line and 17 points off the NWSL Shield, which looks unattainable at the halfway point of the season.

The Wave, however, enjoyed significant success under Stoney, including winning the Challenge Cup — which is newly reformatted like a Community Shield — in March.

Stoney led San Diego to the Shield last year, in the team’s second season as a franchise, before the Wave lost in a playoff semifinal at home. The Wave led the NWSL table for half the season in 2022 and became the first NWSL expansion team to make the playoffs in its first season.

Stoney was named coach of the year in 2022, after being hired ahead of the Wave’s inaugural season.

This year, Stoney attempted to overhaul the team’s style of play from a direct, counterattacking side to one that kept more possession. The adjustment has been difficult.

San Diego is 3-5-6 (15 pts.) this season with only 12 goals scored in 14 games, the third-worst mark in the league.

Stoney and the Wave had just agreed to a contract extension in January through 2027, with a mutual option for 2028, putting to rest rumors that she would return to her native England to take the Chelsea job that would be open upon Emma Hayes’ departure for the United States women’s national team.

Ellis said she told Wave players in a hybrid in-person and virtual meeting that, “There’s talent in this room and I think we can be better than where we are currently.”

ESPN reached out to a representative of Stoney’s on Monday but is yet to receive a response.

Ellis is a former coach and the only woman to win two World Cups. She led the USWNT to back-to-back triumphs in 2015 and 2019. On Tuesday, she heaped praise on Stoney for the work she had done and said they would stay in touch.

“Casey knew results mattered,” Ellis said. “Casey’s ambitious as hell. Was she happy where we were? Of course not. But I think a coach also understands that sometimes this is the nature of the beast of coaching. It’s tough at times.

“You don’t go into coaching knowing that it’s a lifelong commitment. You go into it, give everything you have, try as hard as you can. And Casey’s going to get gobbled up by another team. I think she sort of took it in stride. This is part of the landscape of coaching.

“Ninety percent, 95% of the best coaches in the world have been fired or let go. It’s sometimes hard for people in another ecosystem to know the space we live in, or I lived in, as coaches, but I think it’s part of what you do. I think we’ll have a lot of interest and people will want to come be a part of this.”