University of Washington

New AD Jen Cohen, Huskies coach Chris Petersen forged bond during 2013 meeting in Boise

The reporters staking out the Boise airport that night in December 2013 recognized Scott Woodward, then the University of Washington’s athletic director.

But who was the woman accompanying him on their private flight back to Seattle, roughly 90 minutes after they had landed and met with Chris Petersen in an attempt to lure him to UW to coach football?

“All of a sudden, there’s all these text messages,” said Jen Cohen, who on Wednesday was introduced as Washington’s new athletic director, “and everybody kept saying, ‘Are you the blonde that’s in Boise?’ 

Indeed she was, the only UW staffer to join Woodward in his pursuit of Petersen, who was announced as the Huskies’ new coach the next day.

Cohen, at the time a senior associate athletic director for advancement, told The News Tribune on Wednesday that the clandestine interview with Petersen at a Boise hotel was “an unbelievable experience,” and it turned out to be the beginning of an important relationship between the coach and UW’s new AD.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Cohen said. “Being able to hire somebody like that and then being in the job now, it’s really good for us, because we have a really strong connection and bond with each other, and trust, which is really critical for this job.”

Cohen spoke at her introductory news conference about perpetuating the “Washington way,” which she passionately described as an attitude reflective of integrity and character. She outlined three primary objectives for the department — to improve the lives of UW’s student-athletes every day, to inspire a championship culture, and to build and unite the UW sports community — and expressed her love for a school that first hired her as an assistant director of development in 1998.

When Woodward departed for Texas A&M in January, Cohen’s name immediately surfaced as a strong possibility to replace him.

“She doesn’t have to begin to develop all those relationships. She has a plan,” UW president Ana Mari Cauce said. “Quite frankly, she is the best hire we could have possibly made, and that’s why we did it.”

Cohen’s experience, preparedness and enthusiasm no doubt carried her candidacy — as UW men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar put it, “she knows where all the trap doors are.”

But it couldn’t have hurt that she already had forged a strong bond with Petersen, who said Wednesday that “we hit the ground running today, in my opinion.”

That December 2013 night in Boise, Petersen said, “kind of started the whole relationship right there.”

“I didn’t know how it would go when I came to Washington,” Petersen said. “But I’ve worked with Jen as much as anybody I’ve worked with since I’ve been here. So from Day 1 when I got here, I really have been impressed.

“I’m really excited for Jen, but first and foremost, I’m really excited for Washington, because I think she’s going to make us better.”

Cohen, likewise, speaks highly of Petersen and his program — “I instantly knew there was something really special about him” when they met in Boise, she said — and in many ways would like UW’s entire athletic department to mirror Petersen’s “built for life” philosophy with the football program.

“I think we just share so many similar values about how we approach our work,” Cohen said. “And I think he was able to see that through this time, so I think that’s really helped with our connection with each other.”

Christian Caple: 253-597-8437, @ChristianCaple

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