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Scott Woodward and Jen Cohen's Tale of 2 Football Coaching Hirings

The former UW athletic director went for a huge splash; his successor settled for a ripple.

Scott Woodward and Jen Cohen used to work together at the University of Washington.

One served as the athletic director for nine years; the other, as an earnest fund-raiser and protoge who become Woodward's AD replacement five years ago.

Since this football season began, they've fired coaches and this past week replaced them, going about this difficult chore in far different ways to appease their college presidents and devoted fan bases.

Woodward, 58, stunningly coaxed Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, making Kelly the first football coach in 114 years to leave the sanctified Fighting Irish for another college job.

Cohen, 52, easily plucked Kalen DeBoer from Fresno State, finding him more than eager to move up after two seasons at the Mountain West school and not having to bid against anyone.

Woodward pitched a 10-year, $100-million deal to Kelly that includes huge incentives, such as $500,000 for each bowl appearance.

Cohen signed DeBoer to a 5-year agreement for just under $20 million, agreeing to buy him out of his previous contract for $1.5 million.

Woodward is the guy who went tried to draw attention to the school by hiring Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen as previous Husky football coaches. However, this guy went for a USC offensive coordinator and a Boise State head coach, moves that paled to stealing the Notre Dame leader.

Cohen's resume shows she promoted Jimmy Lake to replace a retiring Petersen and fired Lake 13 games into his brief coaching tenure in Montlake, basically returning merchandise to the store before it was too late. 

These clearly were different administrative strokes for varying levels of football-mad folks.

In Woodward's case, he's had to satisfy his local populace, which is an integral part of the rabid and unforgiving environment of the Southeastern Conference, or the SEC, which indeed is bigger in scope than the other outfit that answers to that acronym, the Security Exchange Commission.

Cohen has no less responsibility, just not the marching orders or the money available to make an amazing hire happen.

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Yet at the UW, it's always been that way. The two most successful coaches in Husky football history, Don James and Jim Owens, came to Seattle as the Kent State coach and s a Texas A&M assistant coach

An LSU grad and a Baton Rouge native, Woodward was quizzed about doing the impossible such as hiring Notre Dame's football coach away from a place where they otherwise leave only if they quit or die. Referencing his UW days, he was gleefully coy about what took place.

"You know, guys, and y'all know I've done this quite a few times, and we know what we're doing and we have a good staff," Woodward said. "We have a process you go about doing it. And I'm not going to tell you how the sausage is made. That's trademarked."

When asked tactfully why she settled on Kalen DeBoer, and didn't pursue a big-name hire on the same order as USC and LSU, Cohen could have explained the financial limitations imposed on her. She could have pointed out that this wasn't Los Angeles or the South, where anything goes. Instead, she chose to simply dodge the question.  

"When we set out to hire our next coach, we had plenty of support to do that from President [Ana Mari] Cauce and the whole university to go get the very best person to lead this program, and that's Coach DeBoer," she said. "We're really, really confident in his abilities, love his background, love his leadership abilities."

Woodward is someone who's always aimed high with the support of his school administration. In 2017, he hired Jimbo Fisher as Texas A&M's football coach, with the former Florida State leader now commanding a $95 million deal over the coming decade.

Woodward can be overly persistent, too. He pushed through the Husky Stadium remodel for $280 million after his donors resisted this necessary upgrade for a decade. It almost seems as if this horse trader just closes his eyes and wishes for the best, and things work out for him.

"We have a process and, you know, you've never see rare things happen," he said. "You know, people get hit by cars, unfortunately, and you just always have to be prepared. Sometimes it works out well and sometimes you have to go to your secondary or third, fourth, fifth option and those can be very good."

Woodward indeed knows how to dash across the street without getting struck by oncoming traffic. Cohen will gladly wait for the light to change.

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