USC hires Washington’s Jennifer Cohen as its new athletic director
Various new sources — USC has hired Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen to be its AD. Cohen, 54, a native of Arcadia who attended San Diego State, will be the first female athletic director in USC history (Barbara Hedges was a senior assoc AD at USC from ’89-’91) and its 10th AD ever.
Cohen has spent the last 24 years at Washington, before becoming athletic director in 2016. Overall, Washington won 17 Pac-12 titles under her leadership.
She started in development at Washington, and emerged over the years as a prolific fundraiser, eventually overseeing the department’s major gifts program. She raised $50 million for the renovation of Husky Stadium, which was completed in August 2013.
Cohen negotiated the school’s 10-year, $190 million apparel contract with adidas in 2019 and steered the Huskies to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten starting in the fall of 2024. Washington will make about half a share of the conference’s media rights distribution, while the Trojans and Bruins will make full shares from the start.
On the field, the Huskies made the College Football Playoff semifinals in 2016, seven months after Cohen was hired, won two conference titles and ended a 17-year Rose Bowl drought.
Cohen was not the athletic director when Washington hired Chris Petersen in football, but she did play a major role in that search. She traveled with then-athletic director Scott Woodward to Boise, Idaho, to meet with Petersen and worked closely with him throughout his successful run.
When Petersen stepped down in 2019, she promoted Jimmy Lake to the head position with a recommendation from Petersen, but the coveted defensive coordinator’s tenure as head coach lasted less than two seasons as he was fired midseason in 2021 after he was suspended for shoving one of his players during a game. Cohen then hired former Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer, who went 11-2 in his first season in Seattle.
The Huskies were the last Pac-12 team to make the playoff semifinals. In March, Cohen was named to the CFP selection committee for a three-year term, which would be a major selling point for USC given program aspirations to have a voice in the room.
Cohen has often championed the need for further diversity in college sports administration, serving for years as the only female athletic director in the Pac-12. The hiring marks a notable shift away from the end of Mike Bohn’s tenure, which ended suddenly and unexpectedly with his resignation after a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed allegations of improper workplace conduct towards female colleagues.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel was the first to report the hire. Cohen will begin her duties as USC’s latest AD on campus tomorrow.
Cohen will be tasked with shouldering massive expectations for the football program in Lincoln Riley’s second season, which begins in just a few days with Saturday’s clash against San Jose State, and with furthering the work of an interim leadership team to lead the university into the Big Ten era in 2024.
USC has deep resources, fertile recruiting geography, football momentum and loads of history. It’s well positioned to matter in this new-world of college athletics. The Trojans will be scary-good under Cohen’s command.
Cohen was born in Southern California, but grew up in Tacoma. In the fifth grade, she wrote a letter to UW’s football coach. Cohen told Don James she wanted to succeed him and become the first female football coach in college history. James wrote back and encouraged her to get involved in athletic-department administration.
“One candidate stood above the rest,” Carol Folt said.
“I told Dr. Folt that there was only one school I’d ever leave UW for, and that was USC,” Cohen said. “So I’ve kept my eye on USC for a long time.”
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