KU welcomes new A.D. Sheahon Zenger

Zenger to make $450,000 a year

It may have taken four months and two offers for Kansas University to find its next athletic director, but it took only a fraction of a minute for Sheahon Zenger to say yes.

Zenger, a native Kansan who spent the past six years as athletic director at Illinois State, was introduced as KU’s 16th A.D. at a news conference Monday. Though he showed emotion for what he was leaving behind, the joy for what he was inheriting far surpassed it. Asked how long he mulled things over after being offered the job at KU, Zenger recalled exactly.

“It took about 10 seconds,” he said. “I want to be here.”

Zenger, 44, will start his new job on Feb. 1, and his contract will run through June 30, 2015. It will pay him $450,000 per year. The contract includes language that seems to be a reaction to the controversial circumstances that led to Lew Perkins’ earlier-than-expected resignation last September. None of that fazed Zenger, who preaches transparency, personal relationships and doing things “the old-fashioned way.”

“There are no secrets in this business,” Zenger said. “There is only hard work.”

Zenger’s introduction featured dozens of references to his days in Kansas. From being born in Salina to his first house in Lawrence near 20th and Ousdahl, just minutes from Allen Fieldhouse, to the time he spent as a 5-foot-9 quarterback at Hays High. Wearing a red-and-blue striped tie and a Jayhawk pin on his suit, Zenger came across as a man well-versed in the history and traditions of KU. He spoke of watching football games from Campanile Hill, wearing No. 10 to honor Bobby Douglass and donning a Gale Sayers jersey in his fourth-grade school pictures.

Throughout the course of the athletic director search, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little ensured that she and the committee would find “the right fit” for Kansas. Monday, it was clear that Gray-Little believes that to be Zenger.

“We gave ourselves several months; we were hoping for early spring,” she said. “To have it done by the beginning of the year, I think, is very helpful with regard to planning, with regard to questions people had about who they’ll be working with. This is an outstanding outcome.”

Beyond all of his rock-chalk rhetoric, Zenger’s core message as an administrator came through loud and clear.

“I will ask every student-athlete, every coach and every staff member to be assignment correct, fundamentally sound and mentally tough on the field of play, in the classroom and in our personal lives each and every day,” Zenger said.

As Zenger talked about his vision for KU’s future, his wife, Pam, and their three children — Luke, Abby and Jake — sat in the front of Hadl Auditorium and beamed with pride. Nearby were Zenger’s mother and father, Weldon and Sharon Zenger, surprise visitors for the day, along with his high school football coach, Tom Cross, and several others who helped Zenger come home.