On her first day of work at the University of Washington, back in 1998, Jennifer Cohen drove along Montlake Boulevard and parked her car beneath the old Husky Stadium.
That, she said, rated as something of an “Are you kidding me?” moment.
She grew up attending UW football games with her father, who moved their family from San Diego to University Place — it was still considered part of Tacoma back then — when she was in elementary school. They had season tickets. When she was in fifth grade, Cohen wrote a letter to legendary Huskies coach Don James, informing him that she wanted to become the first female college football coach.
James wrote back and told her that seeking work as an administrator might be a more tenable path.
“My whole life got built around that,” Cohen said last month.
At age 46, she has reached the pinnacle of the profession.
Cohen, UW’s interim athletic director since January, has been officially hired as the 15th athletic director in the school’s history. A 14-member UW search committee — along with the outside firm Parker Executive Search, which was paid $105,000 for its efforts — took four months to ultimately decide on Cohen, who previously worked as UW’s senior associate athletic director for advancement and spearheaded fundraising efforts for several capital projects, including the renovation of Husky Stadium.
She becomes the second female athletic director in UW history, the only current female athletic director in the Pac-12 and one of only three female athletic directors at a Power Five school. UW also becomes the only Power Five school with both a female president and a female athletic director.
Cohen’s annual base salary will be $460,000, with up to another $100,000 in possible incentives, a UW spokesperson said, though the contract is not yet finalized. It will be a five-year deal once officially signed and approved.
UW president Ana Mari Cauce will formally introduce Cohen as the new athletic director at a news conference Wednesday.
“I am very pleased to announce Jen’s appointment,” Cauce said in a statement released by the school. “She has all the skills and energy to provide exceptional leadership for Husky athletics. Her years of experience leading its fundraising program, along with her direct involvement overseeing football, provide a strong foundation for assuming overall leadership for the department. This is the right time for her, and I look forward to a very exciting time for our students, coaches and fans of Husky athletics.”
Cohen has worked closely with the Huskies football program — she was the only person to accompany former athletic director Scott Woodward to Boise in December 2013 in their pursuit to lure Chris Petersen to coach at UW — and has strong relationships with UW’s top donors.
She graduated from Curtis High School in 1987, graduated from San Diego State University in 1991 and returned to Tacoma to complete her master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration at Pacific Lutheran University.
Prior to her first job at UW, Cohen worked at the University of Puget Sound and Texas Tech. She and her husband, Bill, have two boys, Tyson and Dylan, ages 14 and 11.
“I am humbled, honored, and extremely thankful for this opportunity,” Cohen said in a statement released by the school. “The University of Washington has been part of my life for nearly two decades, and I believe our department is poised to accomplish great things. Together, we will work to positively impact our student-athletes, inspire a championship culture, and build and unite our community. I believe there is no better place to achieve these things than at Washington, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Cohen replaces Scott Woodward, who left UW in January to become athletic director at Texas A&M.
Christian Caple: @ChristianCaple