How about that Washington Huskies football program?
It’s a mess. Coach Jimmy Lake was fired 13 games into his tenure for failing to win, failing to recruit, failing to do much of anything to inspire confidence among the fans.
How about that Huskies men’s basketball program?
Might be even worse under coach Mike Hopkins. An 11th-place finish in the Pac-12 last season, a last-place finish the season before — and a season-opening defeat to Northern Illinois this month.
How about that Huskies women’s basketball program? Was pretty rough with Jody Wynn at the helm. After Wynn’s predecessor led the team to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances — including the Final Four in 2016 — Washington finished 11th or worse in the Pac-12 three out of four years before Wynn was ousted.
How about the woman who hired those three coaches? Gotta think her seat has officially reached a boil.
Washington athletic director Jen Cohen has been in her role for over five years now. She has overseen a department that has competed for and won national titles in a variety of sports. She seems kind and gracious and well-respected in her position. But let’s be real: It’s been a rough couple of years.
The two money sports have been disappointments. Crowds and enthusiasm have been sparse. So how should the Jen Cohen era be evaluated?
Well, let’s start with the good …
Before being promoted to AD, Cohen was instrumental in luring coach Chris Petersen to Washington while working under her predecessor, Scott Woodward. Petersen’s hire was the most significant of this century for UW athletics, as two Pac-12 titles followed — as well as a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Washington had re-established itself as a powerhouse on the gridiron, and it may not have happened had Cohen not been around. Her critics can’t forget that.
Additionally, though the 2017 Hopkins hire is looking more suspect by the season, it did lead to a Pac-12 title and an NCAA tournament win. The Huskies snapped a seven-year tourney drought by making it to the Dance in 2019 — and though Hop has yet to replicate that success with his recruits, he was able to keep most of the key players brought in by Lorenzo Romar.
Plus, Cohen — who oversaw the athletic department’s fundraising efforts before her promotion — landed a 10-year, $119 million apparel deal with Adidas two years ago. And though the Lake hire appears disastrous, she did cut her losses early while others may have been tempted to give it another year.
Still, there’s the bad …
At a school such as Washington, where two national-championship seasons are recognized in Husky Stadium, the success of the athletic department is more or less defined by the success of its football program. Cohen’s most important decision in her time as AD was picking who would replace Petersen, who stepped down after the 2019 season. She missed on that with Lake.
Doesn’t matter if the feeling at the time was that Lake’s promotion was inevitable. It was Cohen’s choice to make, and as she said Sunday: “As a director of athletics, his hire is on me, and I own that.”
As for Hopkins? I suppose there is still a chance for redemption this season, but given the Huskies’ struggles with low-end teams (in addition to the NIU loss, they had trouble with Northern Arizona and winless Texas Southern) — not to mention them being picked 11th in the Pac-12 media poll — it doesn’t look good. And Washington men’s hoops’ descent essentially began after Cohen extended Hopkins’ contract in 2019.
There are myriad factors that go into making a coaching hire or extension. It’s easy to criticize in retrospect. From where I sat, Lake and Hopkins seemed like good selections at the time. But as Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are.”
Cohen’s legacy — and perhaps future — is on the line in choosing Lake’s replacement. And she’s on record saying Washington has the resources to lure the best coach possible. It’s simply about making the right choice.
Cohen has done much to help Washington’s athletic department. She also has much to repair.
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