University of Southern California

Jennifer Cohen
Director of Athletics

Jennifer Cohen

Jennifer Cohen, recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the most powerful, influential, and outstanding women in sports, was named as the university’s 10th Director of Athletics and the Charles Griffin Cale Director of Athletics’ Chair on Aug. 21, 2023. Cohen will lead USC Athletics into one of the most transformative eras in its long and storied history.

With three decades of intercollegiate athletics experience, most recently leading the University of Washington’s athletics department for the past seven years, Cohen is recognized as a fiercely competitive national leader who takes a student-centered approach to building culture and winning the right way. Cohen joined Washington in 1998 as an assistant director of development before moving to the university’s central development office to focus on fundraising efforts on behalf of the office of undergraduate education. She also spent time with the UW’s regional gifts program before returning to athletics to oversee the department’s major gifts program prior to becoming the director of athletics in 2016. Before arriving at Washington, Cohen held a variety of roles in intercollegiate athletics administration at Pacific Lutheran, the University of Puget Sound, and Texas Tech University.

“Jen is an experienced, engaged, and steadfast leader who takes a student-centered approach in building and running an athletics program. And, she has built a reputation as a fierce competitor who wants to win in every sport the right way,” said President Carol L. Folt. “We are experiencing an unprecedented transformation in college athletics, and Jen has the strategic vision and experience to lead USC Athletics through this historic time which includes joining America’s premier conference, the Big Ten, and hosting several venues for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. There has never been a more exciting or important period in the history of USC athletics.”

Recently, Cohen spearheaded the University of Washington’s acceptance into the Big Ten Conference, effective in 2024. Under her leadership, the Husky Athletics programs have flourished, winning 19 Pac-12 championships during her tenure, including two in football, as well as men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s rowing, and boasting a softball program that remains one of the strongest in the nation. Several of her coaching hires were named Pac-12 Coaches of the Year, and Cohen, herself, was honored as a finalist for the Sports Business Journal’s Athletic Director of the Year in 2019.

Instrumental in the hirings of football coaches Chris Petersen and Kalen DeBoer, Washington Football made three-straight New Year’s Six bowl game appearances during Cohen’s first five years serving as the director of athletics, wining a pair of Pac-12 titles and a trip to the College Football Playoff in 2016. In 2018, the Huskies returned to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2001 after defeating Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The 2023 UW team is ranked #10 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

Cohen also currently serves as a member of the College Football Playoff Committee and as a member of the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches.

The UW athletics program also achieved unprecedented success in the classroom under Cohen’s leadership. This past year, the university posted its highest-ever, department-wide NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR), with eight of the university’s teams leading the Pac-12 Conference in GSR.

Among her many other accomplishments, Cohen spearheaded the effort to secure a 10-year, $119 million apparel partnership with Adidas that launched in 2019. With a background in development and revenue generation, Cohen has led the Huskies to record-setting fundraising levels over the past seven years.

“I have long admired the Trojan spirit and the USC community’s commitment to always Fight On with integrity and absolute dedication in pursuit of excellence both on and off the field,” said Cohen. “It is an honor of a lifetime to come back to Southern California to serve as USC’s director of athletics and officially join the Trojan Family. I am excited to help realize President Folt’s moonshot plan to reimagine USC Athletics, ensuring student-athletes from all of our 21 teams have the facilities and resources they need to succeed. USC is a national powerhouse in every measure of college athletics, and I look forward to honoring the Trojan heritage while working alongside the incredible USC Athletics team as we embrace both the opportunities and challenges of this complex moment.”

Over the past few months, USC Athletics’ interim leadership team, led by Dr. Denise Kwok, engaged with faculty, athletics staff, and student-athletes to better understand their key priorities for both the athletics department and its leadership. Cohen fits the criteria that was most important to USC student-athletes and other stakeholders. Parker Executive Search assisted the university in the search process.

“Jen Cohen is the best in the business! She is an elite athletic director and one of the finest leaders I have had the privilege of working with,” said Chris Petersen, former head football coach at the University of Washington. “Jen is a seasoned practitioner who uses her extensive experience to build winning environments and high performing cultures. She is tenacious, driven, and competitive, but always leads with compassion and class.”

USC is already well-positioned for its move to the Big Ten – a conference committed to academic excellence in addition to its athletic competitiveness – as USC Athletics set a new department record with a multiyear 2023 NCAA Academic Progress Rate of 990. USC also set its all-time high 2022 Graduation Success Rate of 93 percent, marking the ninth consecutive year of an increase.

In the 2022-23 academic year, USC student-athletes were also recognized with 27 First Team All-Americans and 16 All Pac-12 First Team honors; 11 teams finished in the Top 25; 16 teams made postseason appearances; and USC was named the Crosstown Cup Champions. Additionally, under Coach Lincoln Riley, USC Football was undefeated in the Coliseum in the 2022 season, and Caleb Williams was awarded the Heisman Trophy, making Williams the university’s seventh official winner of college football’s most prestigious award. USC’s beach volleyball team capped off the year winning its third straight national title. USC student-athletes can be found on the rosters for American and national teams from around the world and can be expected to be well-represented at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

Advancing President Folt’s moonshot to position USC Athletics for success is a key priority. USC is investing in world-class facilities to prepare USC student-athletes to succeed at the highest level, including a game-changing football performance center, a new home for women’s lacrosse and soccer at Rawlinson Stadium, major enhancements to Dedeaux Field, and a significant, multiyear enhancement to the Galen Center.

Cohen, a native of Arcadia, located in Los Angeles County, received her bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and her master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration from Pacific Lutheran University.

Cohen has two adult sons, Tyson (21) and Dylan (18); both student-athletes at other universities.