Dear Trojan Family,
I am excited to announce the appointment of Jennifer Cohen as USC’s 10th Director of Athletics and the Charles Griffin Cale Director of Athletics’ Chair. Jen, who will be coming to us after seven years as the AD at the University of Washington and was recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the most powerful, influential, and outstanding women in sports, will lead the continuation of USC Athletics into one of the most transformative eras in our long and storied history. And she is wasting no time getting started: her first day in Heritage Hall will be tomorrow.
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. 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.
Prior to UW, Jen held a variety of roles in intercollegiate athletics administration at Pacific Lutheran, the University of Puget Sound, and Texas Tech University. She knows how to build and run a professional athletics operation, effectively managing coaches and staff, while building a strong culture of respect and integrity.
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.
Jen deeply values our culture of excellence and is eager to position our thriving athletics program for future success. As the AD at Washington, she built a program that achieved unprecedented success in the classroom, competition, and the community. 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. Additionally, Jen oversaw an athletics department that achieved 19 Pac-12 championships, including two in football as well as men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s rowing, as well as boasting a softball program that remains one of the strongest in the nation. Several of her coaching hires were named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Jen, herself, was honored as a finalist for the Sports Business Journal’s Athletic Director of the Year in 2019. Finally, among her many other accomplishments, she spearheaded the effort to secure a 10-year, $119 million apparel partnership with Adidas that launched in 2019 and led the athletics program to record-setting fundraising levels over the past seven years. Earlier this year, Jen was named to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, only the second woman to be so named.
Importantly, Jen is fully invested in making our athletics vision and moonshot a reality – to position USC Athletics for success with world-class facilities and innovative space planning that benefit all our teams and broader community, while also prioritizing gender equity in support of Title IX. To fully achieve our athletics moonshot, she shares my belief that we must commit ourselves individually and collectively to the university-wide Culture Journey, holding ourselves to the highest standards of integrity, accountability, and excellence. Ensuring that all of our student-athletes can achieve their academic and athletic goals is our top priority, and Jen shares this commitment.
I want to thank Dr. Denise Kwok and our interim leadership team, including Sandy Barbour, Mitch Moser, and Kevin Weiberg, who stepped in to help oversee our athletics department during this transition. I can’t say enough about Denise’s strong, calm, and steady hand over the past few months to ensure everyone inside our athletics program was supported and able to maintain focus on the mission without distraction. Sandy, Kevin, and Mitch brought decades of collegiate athletics expertise to Denise and the program that has allowed us to continue the momentum and preparation necessary for our move to the Big Ten in less than a year.
I also want to extend my gratitude to the entire athletics department leadership team and staff for their incredible work. Thanks to them, we continue to be laser-focused on building an athletics program that’s deeply committed to ensuring all student-athletes can compete at the highest level athletically and achieve at the highest level academically. Jen looks forward to continuing the momentum of USC student-athletes’ success both in the classroom and on the field. I’m particularly proud to note that this year 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 GSR of 93 percent, marking the ninth consecutive year of growth for the university.
This is such an exciting period for USC athletics and none of this would be possible without the strength and community of our student-athletes, athletics staff, fans, supporters, alumni, and friends who show up every day and inspire excellence on and off the field. As Jen told me, quoting Wayne Gretzky, she “skates to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” I am confident that she will show up and inspire us every day, see around corners, and position our athletics program for success for years to come.
As we kick off the new school year, I hope you will join me in welcoming Arcadia-native Jen back to Southern California and her two sons, Tyson (21) and Dylan (18) – who are student-athletes at other universities – as they join our Trojan Family.
Carol L. Folt