DawgmanRadio - A Chat With Jen Cohen

On Tuesday, Dawgman.com's Kim Grinolds sat down and spoke with Washington Interim Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen about her new role, her desire to be the full time athletic director, and what she's working on now as basketball is in full swing and spring football is just weeks away.

To listen to the full podcast, click on the video link above. 

Below are some selected quotes.

Being the interim AD, what can you do and not do? 

“This is business as usual here. The President was very clear that we had full support to make any decisions we needed to make in the best interests of our students and our coaches. Long-term planning is kind of hard when you’re the interim, but you absolutely need to keep moving the department forward every day. We talk about this all the time here; if you’re not getting better, each day you’re falling behind and we can’t afford that. We’re making decisions on a daily basis that are in the best interests of this place. I don’t even think about the interim (tag). It’s not even a tag that is even in my mind. And it’s a team anyways, a team of dedicated people that love this place and want this place to get better. I don’t feel any limitations at all in the role.”

If you were named the athletic director tomorrow, what would you change?

“There’s definitely some things long-term that we want to accomplish here; getting financial stability and we want to see championships at a higher level in some of our sports. But into the next day? Not a lot. I lead a certain way. I’m a collaborative person and I’m about keeping, maintaining and recruiting talent and putting a lot of smarter people around me. It would be that kind of situation.”

Do you want to be the full-time athletic director? 

“Absolutely. It would be a great opportunity. It would be a dream come true. But my energy and my focus is not being spent on that. My energy is on today and the here and now and what’s best for this place. The rest of it is going to take care of itself. I feel that 100 percent and believe that in my heart.”

What’s front and center on your desk? What are you working on?

“When you are in the AD role you have to think big picture. You can’t get caught up in the details in the weeds. It’s something I’m learning because I’m definitely one of those people that is the ‘get it done’ type of personality on this staff. You start with one, are we prepared for success at a new level? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself a lot, because that’s coming here. I see it in football, I see it in men’s basketball. Other sports across the board have already been doing that at various levels anyways. So when I ask myself that, then I ask myself the next question, which is - do we have the right people? Are we all on board with this thing? Look at all of our coaches across all of our sports and I feel so good about the people that are running our teams. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing. Are they good people? Are they getting it done the right way? Are they giving students a great experience? Of course we want to win and give the fans what they want too, but there’s a lot of other components. So you constantly in this role have to be evaluating all that stuff - the big picture - and making sure you have the right people at the right place. 

“The things that take the majority of your time, or things I’ve been worrying about now, are primarily the financial aspect of our business. It’s a new day in college sports. We’re seeing the television be our biggest competition and I think the contracts that were negotiated for the Pac-12 were great from an exposure standpoint. The conference was so behind and obviously were lucrative, but they had negativities that impacted fans and have had a big direct hit on how we’re able to manage this place financially long-term. 

“You cannot tell this story enough; we have two sports that generate enough money to pay for themselves. We have twenty sports that don’t. Every kid in every one of those sports, from my standpoint, is equally as important. Every student that comes through here should have an extraordinary experience. Because that’s what Washington is. So how do you have a business model that you invest in all these programs with only two that financially cover the costs? So what gets lost in translation with our supporters - I think our donors get it more but our fans and season-ticket holders - every decision that we make here that somehow impacts them isn’t because we roll around in money and want to piss everyone off. We do everything here every single day to give students an extraordinary experience and have them have performances that we can all be proud of.”

What do you do with the game day experience? 

“You know what I think about when I think of game day, whenever I hear about this? I think a couple things. The fans make the game. You don’t out-source game day. If you bring new people into our stadium and survey them - we’ve done this - the newer you are to Husky Stadium the more you rank the game day experience as off the charts. The longer you’ve been a Husky season-ticket holder, the more you don’t like the game day experience - for various reasons. It could be video boards. Whereas, across the country, video boards, a beautiful setting, a modern facility are what people would describe as a great college game day. My opinion is, the only way game day gets better at Husky Stadium is if it gets filled. Our fans are our game day. The traditions that we’ve had - if we’ve lost them, let’s make some new ones. But you can’t put on a great show for 25,000 people. Winning is absolutely automatic; you have to continue to do things like we’re doing. You have to have new generations of fans. There are certain things - my dad is a great example of this. He’s had season tickets for 37 years. I’ve been paying for them for three years because he tried to drop. He was so pissed off about the game times and everything. I grew up in that stadium with my Dad. I know exactly what he’s talking about. I know exactly what all of our fans are talking about that grew up in that stadium. We have a certain memory of it, how it used to be. There’s also the reality that it isn’t what the future is going to look like. It’s seven Saturdays - we had two night games - that we can commit ourselves to being at something we really care about with our friends watching unbelievably talented kids right now with one of the best coaches in the country…if that doesn’t work for people still, if that’s not enough because it’s at a time people can’t manage or it doesn’t look how it used to be or the video board makes someone dizzy, or whatever it is…that just tells me it’s generational. It’s a transformation. How did the Seahawks get so many fans? They didn’t have any, so they created a product that was great and they slowly recruited people. They got really good and they brought their fans along. 

“Our fans are going to have to own a piece of this solution for us to get there. It’s not a department paying a bunch of money. There’s things that are happening; I think the millennials are really important. I think getting young fans into our stadium and experiencing that is important. It starts with the students. We’re seeing tremendous positive trends with our students, both in Husky Stadium and in the (Alaska Airlines) arena. The Dawg Pack numbers are actually counter to what the national trend is, which is our students are showing more interest in sports here, moreso than the national trend.”

Talk about the Zone and selling beer in the stadium

“Couple things. Let’s talk about people leaving at halftime. We have a ‘pass-out’ policy that we’ve been debating here for a long time. Everybody can leave Husky Stadium. The Zone only accommodates 3000 fans. The Zone was basically made for the fan that doesn’t have a tailgate experience pre-game and at halftime. But there’s a lot more people leaving Husky Stadium to go to the parking lots than are going to the Zone. It’s factual; we’ve checked it. When we surveyed our season-ticket holders we asked about the Zone to see what kind of value it was, because we get so many emotional notes. And it pisses me off too; I don’t like seeing people in there in the third quarter. But our season-ticket holders are very split on the value. We had a huge response from season-ticket holders that haven’t been season-ticket holders for as long that love the option to go to the Zone because they didn’t have a place to go. 

“We need to ask ourselves at some point in time - is the ‘pass-out’ policy in general…as this thing goes we should think about not doing it anymore primarily for the security reasons. The AD’s have actually had some conversations and will be something I’ll bring up to them - I think the conference should have a policy at all Pac-12 venues that you are not allowed to leave because of security reasons. 

“To answer that (beer question), we have proven that we can have alcohol in contained spaces in Husky Stadium and not have increased incidents. We’ve had no increased in alcohol-related incidents because we’ve had alcohol in the premium areas. We would love to find ways to provide alcohol in a way that doesn’t negatively impact any fan that doesn’t want have that happen, and increase ways where a fan can get a beer - even at halftime - without necessarily having to go to the Zone. Long-term, there might be other options. Beer gardens in the concourse, those types of things. There’s policy issues, political issues on campus. There’s a lot you have to go through to do that, but we are open to that. 

“Personally, I’m not an advocate for selling alcohol throughout all of Husky Stadium. I have been open to that and would love to try it and do it this year but we’d love to try it in the (Husky) Ballpark as a test case in the future. Baseball is a little bit different. But I feel strongly that there are enough people in Husky Stadium that don’t want to have the alcohol around them that we should provide areas where people can drink and provide areas where people can’t drink. There’s a lot of openness to that. You could see down the road where maybe some are licensed for different sections. There’s a lot to consider.” 

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