Women at the Top

December 15, 2016

There are only a handful of women who serve as Athletic Director at Football Bowl Championship schools. Three of them are at the helm of some of the most successful programs this year.

The University of Washington Huskies are ranked #4 in the College Football Playoffs and are headed by Jen Cohen. Penn State, ranked #5, is led by Sandy Barbour. Kathy Beauregard is Athletic Director at Western Michigan, ranked #15. 

The above news was heralded by NACWAA's Patti Phillips and Rachel DeSchepper, who pass along some gems of wisdom from the glass-ceiling breakers in a blog on their web site.

Earlier this year, Barbour was very vocal in supporting Head Coach James Franklin, and she says that was a defining experience for her.

“I learned a lot from standing up for, and being vocal and public about it,” she says. “Sometimes that support is not as successful. It doesn’t play out the way it did this year. But I do think it certainly bolstered for me this notion for standing up for what you feel and think is right. And then just stand behind it. That in and of itself is success.”


Cohen has been in her role at Washington less than a year.

“These jobs are all about fit: Do you match up with what this institution represents, and what this athletic department stands for, and what this community believes in? This has been a great cultural fit, and it’s been the right partnership for the university and for me,” she says. “With all that being said, I’m not sure if anything prepares you for this position until you’re in it. The biggest challenge is really understanding leadership at this level: You’re working to bring hundreds of employees, hundreds of student-athletes, thousands of fans and community members all together under one mission. That’s an unbelievable task. I’m constantly learning and growing and evolving.”

Cohen offers this advice to up-and-coming athletic administrators:

"Always stay in the process; don’t worry about what’s ahead of you, don’t worry about what’s behind you,” she says. “Just take this thing every single day and really focus on the hard work of trying to get better every day and evolving. And don’t put a lot of outcome-based expectations on yourself all the time. Have goals, but let the process be more important than the outcome. You find your way in the process and reward in it. That’s where the magic happens.”

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