A Conversation With Cohen, Part 5

Now that Jennifer Cohen has been Washington’s Athletic Director for a year, we decided it was a good time to catch up with her on a range of issues to get her thoughts and opinions. Over the course of this week we will get Cohen’s take on everything from the AD budget to taking Kelsey Plum shopping. For this last part, we get her quick takes on a number of former UW student-athletes, the things that keep her up at night and also keep her going, as well as trying to harness her unbridled passion

On John Ross III

“Grown so much, just an all-around great kid. Humble. Appreciative, grateful. An unbelievable representative of the University of Washington.”

On Sidney Jones

“Tough. How awesome is it he came out of this injury still with unbelievable potential? Really smart and hard-working and classy.”

On Budda Baker

“The heart and soul of turning around Husky Football. Getting Budda to come here, it changed the game. He is every coach’s dream, Budda Baker is. He’s got it all.”

On Kevin King

“I want him to be my son. I do! I’m going to cry thinking about Kevin King. I love Kevin King. I will miss his smile and his swagger and his heart. He is a thoughtful kid.”

On Elijah Qualls

“Oh, man. He used to make me laugh even when he didn’t make any of the coaches laugh. Teddy bear, kind of a momma’s boy-type of kid, but did so much for this program too and always there for a big bear hug. Good young man.”

On Marquese Chriss

“I instantly think - why couldn’t we have had him and Dejounte (Murray) longer? That’s what I think of, because of the kids that were here for basketball, between Dejounte and Marquese and Markelle (Fultz), you see so many great things about them and then you don’t get them for a long enough period of time. I love that kid’s smile. He was a great teammate and really happy that he’s having success.”

On Dejounte Murray

“A great Husky. When things were going down with basketball, he called me and wanted to make sure I knew he was supportive of the program and the future of Husky Basketball and he wanted what was best. They gave it their best shot when they were here. I thought that was such a classy move, awesome to see him play so deep this year. Both those kids did a lot to inch us to a little bit ahead, but unfortunately because we didn’t get to have them long enough…if you get them one more year, who knows what that team might have looked like.”

On Isaiah Thomas

“IT! I call him ‘Zay Zay’. Are you kidding me? How courageous is that guy? There’s very few Huskies you could come up with that have more fight and courage than IT and seeing what he went through with his sister. I texted him and I was like you are an example of courage. Who has that kind of courage? He also cares so deeply about this program and super-supportive here and with the changes with Hop. We are really proud that he’s a Husky.”

On Markelle Fultz

“Markelle…just tender and thoughtful and appreciative and humble and a quiet nature, until he got a little chippy. I love his relationship with Kelsey (Plum). Was a good college student, a great player. Really handled all the pressure and all the exposure with complete class.”

On Kelsey Plum

“Will never see another player like her. The best combination of swagger and humility at the same time. Never had a kid talk more (crap) to me than Kelsey Plum. She’d come out to the court and she’d be like ‘Cohen, it’s cold in here! Can’t you get some heat?’ I had this tradition that nobody knows about. I started it last year with Talia (Walton). If you get called to go to the WNBA Draft, I’ll take you to Nordstrom. We’re allowed to spend a certain amount of money on these kids, so I took Kelsey shopping. Her outfit, which she rocked - she looked amazing with the shoes and the whole thing - I got to go help her be a part of picking that out. I’ve never seen anybody like her as a player, but also as a person. She is so funny and she’s so confident but yet she’s so humble and so grateful. She had the weight of the world on her shoulders this last year, more than anyone will ever know. The way she managed that, she can do anything. She’ll have a great career but she’ll go into TV. I can’t wait to retire her jersey and celebrate her and be friends with her for a lifetime.”

So does that mean you’re going to take Markelle shopping?

“This is typical Kelsey. She’s like, what if you took a guy? How much would you spend on him? Would you spend more? She’s so good pushing the envelope. I said well I haven’t taken any of the guys. Markelle didn’t ask. The guys don’t want to go shopping with me. I think Markelle already had some pretty decent suits. I’ve seen them. But wouldn’t that be cool? Maybe in the future I can get one of the guys to let me go take ‘em but it’s been a girl thing.”


Maybe Jaylen (Nowell) would do it...

“I would love to take Jaylen. I’ve known that family since he was a kid. We could all go together.

What’s keeping you up at night right now?

“The two biggest concerns are student welfare, just so many concerns right now. Not just athletes but all students. So just issues around drugs and alcohol and sexual assault, sexual violence, depression, suicide, injuries. I just worry about this stuff all the time. We have 650 student-athletes and they are elite athletes with a lot of pressure on them. I see a lot of things that are hard. I have my own kids so I worry about that all the time. 

“The second thing is just always having enough revenues to be competitive in all 22 of our sports. How do we keep getting better? How do we keep investing? How do we make sure that all of our programs are successful. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. That will be a grind every day. I will probably worry about it every single day and think about it at night and wake up thinking about it. That’s my job, to make sure we can run this program in a way where we can be really competitive.”

What’s coming up that’s got you really excited?

“It’s just them…look at these coaches? We’ve been able to hire five new head coaches since I’ve been here, so it’s not just one thing. It’s all of them. I’m really jacked about the culture of this place. It’s like geeky stuff that fans wouldn’t care about. We have worked so hard at getting everybody aligned around this whole idea of winning the student-athlete experience and competing at the highest level in all aspects of what our kids are doing. 

“So seeing that year two, seeing that develop and grow, and now I feel like we have a really good foundation. Everybody understands what we’re all about. Now we get to dream a little bit for the future. We’ve got to come up with a 10-year plan for this place, we’ve got to have capital as part of it. We’re not going to be able to borrow, so we’re going to have to get donors really behind these visions and dreams that we have. 

“I’m super-excited because this year is the year we get to dream about these things and start putting a plan in place.”

What can you do to spend less time upstairs and more time down on the sidelines?

“I was so out of control at the Peach Bowl! I kept thinking about how Coach Pete kept giving me these talks about the job…’now remember, you’ve got keep your passion under control’. Why was he telling me that? Was I out of control? He’s seen it first-hand, apparently. I did pretty good this year for basketball, because I know people can see me. But football, that Peach Bowl…I just got so pissed at the end of the game. I thought they were playing dirty and I was worried about my boy Trey Adams. I was worried about him after the game. Don’t go after those guys! But I get very momma bear and very protective. I’m really competitive. You know I had a hard time on the road at Arizona this year. I think I said some things on the sideline at Stanford and someone showed it to me on Twitter, and I was, okay. I’ve got to stop talking now. That’s really hard for me. I need a hiding place.”

A Conversation With Cohen, Part 4

A Conversation With Cohen, Part 3

A Conversation With Cohen, Part 2

A Conversation With Cohen, Part 1

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