Washington Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen is leaving the UW to take the same job at USC per reports. ESPN’s Pete Thamel was the first with the news. Cohen had been in the role at Washington since 2016.
Sources: USC is set to hire Washington’s Jennifer Cohen as the school’s new athletic director. Cohen has been the AD at Washington since 2016 and overseen the program reaching the College Football Playoff. She's a member of the CFP Committee.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) August 21, 2023
Cohen’s name was listed as a candidate by many outlets back in May when the USC position became available. However, some of the appeal of the move to USC appeared to be the chance to move to a Big Ten school rather than the instability of Washington’s situation at the moment. That changed somewhat when Cohen instead helped UW president Ana Marie Cauce make the decision for the Huskies to jump conferences themselves.
(Wilner has had some misses over the last year)
Wilner on Jen Cohen becoming the next AD at USC: “I would bet that Jen Cohens last AD job is the one she has now.”— Dave “Softy” Mahler (@Softykjr) May 30, 2023
The tenure at Cohen at Washington was somewhat of a mixed bag as there were several highs but also many lows that saw some fans calling for her job at times. Washington made the College Football Playoff in 2016 shortly after she ascended to the position and it appears at least so far that the hire of Kalen DeBoer is a home run get. Taking the Powells away from Oregon to lead the Track and Field program has resulted in Washington quickly becoming a rising power in that sport at the expense of their biggest rivals.
Her biggest shortcomings though have come in the biggest revenue generating sports. The Jimmy Lake hire ended up a disaster although at least she quickly pulled the plug before the end of year two rather than letting it linger. The same can’t be said for men’s basketball with Mike Hopkins. Cohen gave him a massive extension for fully guaranteed money after a successful year two and he has never come close to making the NCAA tournament again in the following four seasons. Cohen’s departure seems like writing on the wall for Hopkins as she has been a staunch supporter of his at all times. With a new decision maker he needs a surprise deep tournament run this season.
In women’s basketball, the hire of Jody Wynn ended up being a disaster as the program sank to near the bottom of the conference in her four seasons. It’s too soon to make a judgment on the hire of replacement Tina Langley but UW WBB appears to be trending up heading into this season. Softball and volleyball continued to be strong throughout her tenure though those coaches were hired before Cohen’s ascension to the AD job. She oversaw the promotion of Leslie Gabriel after UW’s head coach left this winter to take the Minnesota job. Men’s soccer has also risen to one of the top programs in the country under Jamie Clark who was in the role before Cohen’s hire.
Cohen has Southern California ties as she graduated from San Diego State University despite growing up in Tacoma, Washington. She had been at the University of Washington in some capacity for 25 years.
The job at USC became available after Mike Bohn resigned/was let go in May. Bohn came over for Cincinnati and helped make the big moves for USC to poach Oklahoma’s star football coach Lincoln Riley and move to the Big Ten. However, details began to emerge after Bohn stepped down that Bohn had a number of very troubling allegations against him and appeared to have a toxic effect on the workplace. Before Bohn’s hire, USC had been renowned for hiring from the inside even if it meant they weren’t getting a fully qualified candidate.
There are many components to an Athletic Director’s performance but making the right hire for the football program is number one among them. Get that right and you set up your entire athletics department for success by providing steady revenue. Get it wrong and need to pay a big buyout and suddenly there isn’t money left to fix mistakes for other sports. Cohen appears to be 1⁄2 in that capacity at Washington and it seems likely she won’t get a shot at making a hire for a while at USC with Lincoln Riley in place.
The last time USC was able to poach Washington in a major position related to athletics it was football head coach Steve Sarkisian returning to L.A for his dream job. The Huskies hired Chris Petersen in his place and very clearly won the exchange.
Washington promoted internally when they hired Cohen back in 2016. We’ll see if they do similarly now that the position is open once again. Deputy Athletics Director & Chief of Staff Andy Fee has to be viewed as a major candidate after he was brought in almost exactly a year ago from Long Beach State where he had served as the AD for 5 years.