LAWRENCE, Kan. – Sheahon Zenger brought an impeccable reputation to Kansas, where he was tasked with the task of solidifying an athletic department in turmoil, resurrecting the soccer program and keeping basketball at the forefront.
He failed in everything but kept the hoops on top. So it was not surprising on Monday when Chancellor Douglas Girod, despite giving a vote of confidence to Zenger last fall, announced that he had been fired after seven years in charge.
"Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and Kansas athletics has improved in many ways," Girod said in a statement. "But the department continues to face a series of challenges and progress in key areas has been elusive – to achieve the level of success we need and expect, a change in leadership is necessary."
Zenger was fired without cause, which means that the school will pay approximately $ 1.5 million in salary and benefits for the remaining years of his contract.
Deputy Director Sean Lester will serve as interim sports director, and Girod said he had recruited Drue Jennings, who served as interim AD in 2003, and Jed Hughes of executive search firm Korn Ferry to help identify the next full time athletic director.
Whoever is elected will have his hands full.
Zenger was hired from the state of Illinois to set up an athletic department that was still reeling from the dismissal of soccer coach Mark Mangino and an embarrbading ticket reselling scandal. And while he managed to have constant leadership, the school's athletic department was once again swept away by the mud when he was recently identified in the FBI's recent investigation into college basketball.
The school has claimed that it is a victim in the scandal, and no one from Kansas has been implicated. But as the school continues with the details of a mbadive $ 191 million contract with Adidas, Adidas, the probe has overshadowed a program that reached two Final Fours and kept its Big 12 title streak intact while Zenger was in charge.
Zenger, a former badistant soccer coach, was also expected to return the Jayhawks to national prominence. But after firing Turner Gill, surprised many by hiring Charlie Weis, who achieved only six victories and left the program in terrible shape in terms of scholarships when he was fired.
Zenger's next contract was David Beaty, a relatively indescribable badistant coach at Texas A & M. And although Beaty has been successful in the recruitment path, that has not crossed the field, where he has a record of 3-33. in three seasons and only one victory against an enemy of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
With the man who hired him, it's likely that Beaty is training for his job this fall.
"I spoke with coach Beaty today and shared my expectation that he will continue to recruit hard and prepare his team for the season," Girod wrote in a letter to the campus community.
Zenger maintained the legendary Jayhawks basketball program, not only to keep Coach Bill Self happy, but also to give him the tools to succeed. He raised $ 12 million to build a dormitory for the program's players and $ 18 million for a facility to house the original James Naismith basketball rules, which were purchased at an auction by Kansas Booster David Booth. Fans still sell all the games at Allen Fieldhouse.
He also directed the construction of Rock Chalk Park, home of the national women's outdoor track and field team, and made minor improvements to the soccer program.
But it has been slow to keep up with the soccer race, leaving the Jayhawks to play at the sadly outdated Memorial Stadium. And although Zenger recently unveiled a $ 350 million plan for influential donors to improve the stadium, and an indoor practice facility is already under construction, fundraising has proved difficult for a program that has not had a winning season in a decade.
"I am proud of our successes over the past seven years, most of the achievements of our student athletes and coaches," Zenger said in a statement. "I hope our fans know that I did my best and always prioritized our student athletes."
Girod, who took over as chancellor last July from Bernadette Gray-Little, said she spent "countless hours" with her colleagues to get her perspective on Kansas. The common thread, he said, was that the achievement of his lofty aspirations extended beyond academics and the athletic department.
"As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our mission as an iconic research university," said Girod. "Across the country, we are recognized for having elite programs, a proud tradition and a loyal fanbase.These badets will be useful to us as we identify a new athletic director."