KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger shared his thoughts on three of KU’s highest-profile sports ...
“Excited to see it. I’ve been heavily involved in the first six months here with the conference office getting ready for this first season under the new alignment. I believe coach Gill and his staff are a high-quality staff. I know of many of them from before, even in my own coaching days. Strong recruiters. I think that’s been borne out in this last class. It’s going to take some time for these young guys to matriculate through the system. I think you’ll see a better football team this fall. From the practices I’ve attended, the discipline, the intensity, the quickness in their step. The schedule is going to be incredibly hard. I don’t know what that’s going to mean with regards to wins and losses, but I think you’re going to see a better product out there on the field.”
“Coach Henrickson and I have spent time together talking about it, talking about her history here and what the first few years were like and the middle years were like and the latter years were like. I think that she’s always felt very confident that she could build a winner here, and I think she’s coming very close — and I’m talking about conference play. I think she’s come very close, and at times, probably been hit with adversity in terms of injuries and other things that have derailed her a little bit. This year, I’m very, very anxious to watch how it plays out. I think she may have the right staff and the right players on the court to bring it together, and this could be a breakthrough year for her.”
“I love talking about this — one of the elite programs in the nation. ... More than anything, I want to make sure the Jayhawk faithful, the Jayhawk Nation always takes great pride in who we are as an institution, who we are as an athletics department and in our men’s basketball program, historically and currently. Never, ever, ever apologize for being a great basketball school and having a great basketball tradition, regardless of what’s gone on in the last few years in regards to conference realignment talks and other schools emphasizing other sports. We have one of the greatest traditions in the history of sport, and we’re never going to apologize for that, and we’re going to do everything in our power to keep that elevated where it’s at.”
After being hired on Jan. 3, new Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s intention for the first few months was to “walk beside his staff” and observe them without being obtrusive.
That changed June 1.
“I went from being somewhat of the new guy and a consultant almost to, ‘OK, the job has officially begun,’” Zenger said.
Since then, Zenger says he’s become more involved daily with all aspects of the department while guarding against micro-managing.
He said he’s been able to do that more effectively after taking a few months to get a feel for the athletic department he inherited.
“You have to get to know the people and you have to get to know the place,” Zenger said, “before you can come in and make big, wide-sweeping changes.”
Zenger set up an all-staff meeting on June 9, where he delivered his confidential evaluation of the department.
He’s also worked to set up individual meetings with each coach this summer, joking that he probably gained 10 pounds in June alone after get-togethers over breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“The No. 1 priority is to make sure that every sport we have is competitive,” Zenger said, “and I’m stating the obvious here with some of the Director’s Cup standings at the end of the year.”
The Director’s Cup assesses points for all sports and ranks all schools Nos. 1 to 263.
Last year, KU ranked 72nd out of 263 teams overall and last in the Big 12.
“I’ve shared this with the staff. There’s only one word that describes (the ranking): Unacceptable,” Zenger said. “Now let’s go to work. Don’t make any excuses. Don’t go out and make any promises. Just go to work and let’s get busy making sure we don’t finish there again.”
Out of KU’s 16 varsity teams, only three scored points in the Director’s Cup standings during the 2010-11 school year by making NCAA post season play: men’s basketball and men’s and women’s track and field.
“Those are two sports we’ve been pretty well known for 100 years,” Zenger said. “We’ll start there and build on that.”
Though Zenger has set many short-term goals — ranging from sport performance to staff performance to external relations — he said most of them come back to one motto: Doing things the “Kansas Way.”
“The Kansas Way,” which Zenger introduced in his opening press conference, includes three beliefs: Wanting to be substance over image, not image over substance; under-promising and over-producing; and working hard.
“All the goals that we’re setting, in my opinion, they need to reflect the values of the state of Kansas, the University of Kansas,” Zenger said. “And when they do, I think it will resonate with our fan base.”
After the transition on June 1 — a “page-turning” as Zenger called it — the AD said he’d be more comfortable making personnel changes if they were needed.
“You didn’t need some knight coming in here,” Zenger said, “with the shining armor on his white horse, swinging the sword on day one or two or three and completely restructuring with no knowledge of who these people are or what they do or what they’re capable of. So that’s what I’ve guarded against.”
Zenger also was aware that he was adopting a fragile department.
Last year, KU had its share of controversy, most notably a ticket scandal that cost the university more than $1 million in revenue.
“I would tell you that in the first six months — and we’re not completely done with this yet — this department needed some healing,” Zenger said. “There’ve been some things — I don’t even want to talk about it — but in the last two years, there’s been some things that have been kind of difficult.
“That creates angst and anxiety. So it’s been important to bring some healing to the department.”
While many of his efforts in the first months were focused internally, Zenger also made it a priority to get out to meet KU fans around the state.
“The people are very gracious and warm and receiving,” Zenger said. “I can’t be grateful enough for that. I’ve been treated better than I ever dreamed.”