LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Cohen has been hired as Southern California’s athletic director after seven years in the same post at the University of Washington.
“There was one clear candidate who stood out,” USC President Carol Folt said of Cohen during a news conference Monday. “She’s passionate, accomplished and equally regarded as a fierce competitor.”
Cohen is the first female athletic director in USC’s storied history. She replaces Mike Bohn, who resigned in May after 3 1/2 years, citing “ongoing health challenges.”
There also was an athletic department review and complaints about Bohn’s management style and behavior.
“This is extra special and meaningful for me to come back to my original roots and lead a storied athletic program,” said Cohen, who grew up in nearby Arcadia. “It’s a special place and time. There is so much momentum to build on. We have to put our foot on the gas and continue so we can elevate.”
Folt said her goal was to have an athletic director in place by the first football game, which is Saturday against San Jose State. Monday also marked the first day of fall classes at USC.
Folt also noted that the hiring process would have lasted longer if she didn’t feel like they had the right person.
“I didn’t feel we would cut corners or anything, because this is a position that’s going to last for a lot longer,” Folt said. “But she knows what it means to be able to be there from the start of a (academic) term. That’s so much better than walking in November in so many ways.”
Cohen was at Washington for 24 years and was named athletic director in 2016. The 10th athletic director in USC history is the second leader straight who wasn’t a former Trojans football player and had no administrative experience.
Cohen’s first 17 years at Washington were spent fundraising. She considered that beneficial not only in navigating the myriad challenges with college athletics, but also with honing skills necessary to run a department.
“I think the best thing about fundraising is it trains you to be a really good leader about listening to what other people want and trying to align people’s passions and needs for something that’s bigger than just that person,” she said. “I do the same thing with a coach. It’s a very service mindset, where you’re there to work on behalf of others, and that’s very much my leadership style.”
Cohen recently oversaw Washington’s move from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big Ten, effective in 2024. USC started the Pac-12 dominoes last June when it announced along with UCLA that they were headed to the Big Ten.
While USC has been working on its move to the Big Ten for over a year, plenty of things still need to finalized before next August.
Former Penn State AD Sandy Barbour, who was part of USC’s interim leadership team the past three months, said the department has done a good job continuing to work on plans while there was a search for a new athletic director.
“It’s a big lift, but I will tell you that the staff here has done a tremendous job in their areas of getting ready,” Barbour said. “I am very confident that USC is not just going to get there and make the transition, they’re going to thrive.”
Cohen is also a member of the College Football Playoff committee and takes over an athletic program that has had a recent run of success in its marquee sports.
USC football is ranked sixth in The Associated Press’ preseason poll in its second season under Lincoln Riley. Men’s basketball has made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Andy Enfield and features the nation’s top incoming freshman class, which includes Isaiah Collier and Bronny James.
Women’s basketball made the NCAA Tournament in its second season under Lindsay Gottlieb, who signed the nation’s top recruit in Juju Watkins for the upcoming season. Beach volleyball has won three straight national championships.