USC hires first woman athletic director, Jennifer Cohen

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — University of Washington athletics director Jennifer Cohen has been named the next head of athletics at USC, making her the first woman to lead the Trojan athletic programs.

“Jen has more than three decades of experience in athletics and has built a reputation as a seasoned, engaged and steadfast leader who takes a student-centered approach in building and running a winning athletics program,” USC President Carol Folt wrote in a message to the USC community announcing the hire. “She is regarded as a fierce competitor who wants to win in every sport, the right way. These are also the qualities our coaches, student-athletes, staff, and faculty told me they wanted to see in our next director of athletics.”

Cohen has led the athletics program at Washington since 2016. She recently oversaw the university’s decision — mirroring one by USC — to leave the Pac 12 Conference in favor of the Big Ten Conference in 2024. UCLA and the University of Oregon are also making the same move.

At the time of her hiring, Cohen was one of few women to hold an athletic director post at a Power 5 school.

Cohen will replace Mike Bohn, who served as USC’s athletic director since 2019 but resigned unexpectedly in May, with some reports indicating there was an internal investigation into his behavior while leading the athletics program.

At an introductory news conference on the USC campus Aug. 21, Cohen said the job is a return home for her. She was born and raised in Arcadia.

“Both of my parents grew up in the L.A. area, so I always had a just strong admiration for USC, for the legendary teams, the legendary letter winners, the Trojan spirit and just the big space that USC takes up in this L.A. sports culture,” she said. “So this is extra special for me and very meaningful to come back to my original roots to lead a storied and iconic athletic program at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.”

Cohen thanked Folt and other USC leaders for entrusting her with the position.

“Leading USC athletics is not just an opportunity of a lifetime, it is a responsibility of a lifetime,” she said. “I will lead with integrity and with character and with heart, and I will lead with passion in a way that will be embarrassing sometimes on the sidelines. So, everybody, I’m preparing you for that. I get a little fired up during games and all competition.”

In her message announcing Cohen’s hiring, Folt said, “Over the past four years, we have made major investments in our athletics enterprise that have fueled a successful transformation of the program; Jen couldn’t be joining us at a better time. USC is at the forefront of this transformational period in intercollegiate athletics.

“As we commenced our search for our next director of athletics, we knew we needed to identify a leader who could not only steer our athletics department through this rapidly changing environment, but also help build upon the momentum we’ve laid as we prepare for our move to the Big Ten Conference next year. We recognized we must hire a leader who would uphold our traditions of ensuring USC student-athletes have the resources they need to succeed on and off the field, and showcase the most student-centric athletics program in the country.

“I am confident that she will be that visionary leader for all of USC’s 21 sports teams, as well as an integral member of my leadership team and the Trojan community,” Folt added.

Cohen is USC’s 10th athletic director. Prior to her 25 years at the University of Washington, she worked in athletics administration at Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Puget Sound and Texas Tech University.

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