A soccer coaching career that would see him win five state championships with Alter High School started quietly for Bob Ellis. He didn’t know anything about the sport when his 7-year-old son Bob Jr. started playing at the Kettering YMCA in 1977.
“The sports were football and basketball when he was growing up,” Bob Jr. said Friday, “but he put me in soccer because it burned a lot of energy. We had a female coach, and she said, ‘You’ve got to help me control these boys.’”
Ellis volunteered to help, and that decision put him on a path to coaching greatness. He surpassed the 400-career victory milestone last September with the Alter boys team and planned to keep coaching as long as he could, Bob Jr. said. That made his death on Friday at 76 all the more shocking for his family, his former players and everyone who knew him through the soccer community.
“We think it was a heart attack,” Bob Jr. said. “We don’t know for sure. It happened sometime in his sleep last night.”
Ellis had been preparing for Alter’s 2021 season.
“All of his boys were texting them about spring workouts,” Bob Jr. said, “and they were so fired up for him to come back. He was in such a great place.”
Bob Jr. paid tribute to his dad on Facebook on Friday afternoon, writing: “Our family is devastated. He was a man of tremendous faith who loved his family deeply, loved his catholic faith and church, and loved the Alter Community. We will miss him terribly, but his impact and legacy will live on forever. Please keep my mom, Cam, Jennifer, Jaime and I and all his grandkids and extended family in your prayers. God has a new angel and I’m positive he has already gone looking to meet John Wooden, his hero and the original Wiz.”
According to the Ohio High School Athletic Association record book, Ellis ranks eighth in state history in career victories. His record was 412-135-84 in 31 seasons.
Ellis coached Alter to 10 state final four appearances. The Knights won state championships in 1996, 1998 and 2016 and finished as runner-up in 1993, 1994, 2006 and 2007.
Ellis was an assistant on head coach Roy Bohaboy’s staff when the program won its first state championships in 1987 and 1988. His oldest son Bob Jr. was a senior on the state championship team in 1987, and his second-oldest son, Cam, was on the 1988 team.
Ellis became the head coach in 1990 after spending six seasons as the reserve coach. He had a 77-13-14 record as a reserve coach at Alter and won 42 games in a row at one point.
It all started with that team of 7-year-olds. It’s a story the family has told for years.
“We did not win a game the whole year,” Bob Jr. said. “We scored one goal on ourselves for the other team. I did it by accident. I’ll never forget this even though I was 7 years old and I’m 50 years old now. He came up to me — and this is not knocking the players or the coach or anything — and said, ‘That will never happen to you again ever.’ He poured himself into books, videos, anything he could get his hands on to learn the game of soccer to coach me and then ultimately my brother. Then my mom got involved, and she coached my sisters.”
The game spread throughout the family. One of Ellis’ 11 grandchildren, Emily Ellis, daughter of Bob Jr., committed to play soccer at Ball State on Tuesday and got to tell her grandpa the news. The fact that Ellis got to experience that moment gave Bob Jr. comfort after his dad’s death.
“He was so excited about it,” said Bob Jr., who now lives in Fishers, Ind., “and then he called me after talking to her. He was excited for Emily.”
When Ellis wasn’t coaching soccer, he worked for a CPA firm before he retired: Lloyd, Darner, Guenther & Ellis. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Katie, his sons Bob Jr. and Cam and daughters Jennifer McCune and Jaime Wellman.
One of the tributes to Ellis, who was nicknamed “Wiz,” came from the official Alter boys soccer Twitter account: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Ellis family. Coach Wiz will be dearly missed by the Alter Community and all that knew him. Please keep the Ellis family in your prayers.”
The Southwest Ohio Soccer Coaches Association also paid tribute on Twitter: “Our thoughts go out to the entire Alter soccer community and towards the family and loved ones of Coach Bob Ellis. What an impact he’s made on so many during his lifetime. Our prayers for healing & peace are with each of you.”