The Washington men finished 19-15 last season. New athletic director Jen Cohen is optimistic about the program and offered a tacit endorsement of the coach.
The consensus among University of Washington faculty, coaches and prominent supporters inside the Husky Stadium Football Operations Center was the school hit a home run when it hired Jen Cohen as its new athletic director.
There seems to be little concern on whether Cohen, UW’s former associate AD and the interim AD since January, has the leadership skills to direct a department of 22 varsity sports, 200 employees and 650 student-athletes.
She’s spent the past 18 years at Washington overseeing the athletic department’s fundraising, which implies she’s ideally suited to become the caretaker of the Huskies’ $100 million budget and lead the university into an uncertain future in college athletics where revenues are declining nationally while student-athlete expenses are increasing.
And no one seems to doubt Cohen’s Husky passion. The former Tacoma native grew up attending Washington football games with her father and described her new gig a “a dream come true.”
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Amid the handshaking, picture taking and congratulatory embraces — many from UW president Ana Mari Cauce who repeatedly admitted “I’m a hugger” — the only hint of uncertainty came from Cohen, who admitted she’s unsure what it’s going to be like to supervise her former peers.
“I’m sure there’s going to be things that come my way that I can’t anticipate, but my decision-making process is that we’re doing best for the University of Washington,” she said. “I’ve had to make a lot of hard decisions in the past, and I’ll have to make a lot of hard decisions in this role too.”
Perhaps the thorniest issue facing Cohen as she begins her tenure is how she’s going to handle the men’s basketball team and in particular its popular coach, Lorenzo Romar.
Cohen’s predecessor, Scott Woodward, gave Romar a 10-year contract extension that pays him $1.7 million annually and expires after the 2019-20 season.
Securing Romar to a long-term deal made sense in 2010 following a run to the Sweet 16 when he was drawing interest from college and NBA teams.
Since then, Washington has made just one NCAA tournament appearance and has a five-year Big Dance drought — its longest since a 12-year absence between 1986 and 1998. Romar is the only coach in a Power 5 conference who hasn’t taken his current team to the tourney in the past five years.
“Any time you do an evaluation, which I’m looking forward to doing with Lorenzo, it will be a comprehensive evaluation of what’s worked in the past, what hasn’t and most importantly where are we going in the future,” Cohen said. “We haven’t had a lot of time together on this topic. I’m really looking forward to getting more time with him.
“He knows how I feel and I know how he feels, which is we both expect this program to improve. And we both absolutely believe that we can have a successful program here, which he did have. He showed that.”
Romar took over a pedestrian program in 2002 and guided UW during its most successful period, which included six NCAA tournament appearances and three trips to the Sweet 16 during his first nine years.
Following seasons of 16, 17 and 18 wins respectively, Washington finished 19-15 last season.
Still, the Huskies were 9-9 in the Pac-12 and eighth in the conference standings. UW was eliminated in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament — its third NIT appearance in the past five years.
Cohen is optimistic about the future of the program, while offering a tacit endorsement to its coach.
“From what I know right now that’s how I feel,” when asked if Romar is the right man to lead UW. “As we continue to look where we’re going and where we think we can go and what our plan is, then I’ll have more information about it. But absolutely, I’m 100 percent behind him right now.”
And what if the Huskies miss the NCAA tournament next year?
“We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Cohen said. “So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”