It’s hard not to think about how certain things run in cycles when considering the hiring of Kansas native Sheahon Zenger as Kansas University’s new athletic director.
Bob Frederick stepped down as KU’s athletic director in 2001 citing concerns about the changing face of college athletics and the added financial pressures associated with those changes. Frederick was replaced by Al Bohl, whose flashy salesmanship was a stark contrast to Frederick’s quiet, thoughtful style. After less than two years, the university asked Bohl to leave and replaced him with Lew Perkins, a man with an even bigger reputation than Bohl for raising the financial stature of college athletic programs. Unfortunately, his focus on raising money offended some of the Jayhawk faithful and may have sent a message to members of his staff who now stand accused of pocketing proceeds from Jayhawk ticket sales.
Now, with the hiring of Zenger, KU leaders seem to be making an intentional return to the Frederick model.
Frederick was a former KU basketball player who earned three degrees from KU, including a doctorate in educational administration. Zenger, a Kansas native, has two degrees from Kansas State University, but also earned a doctorate from KU in educational policy and leadership. Frederick loved KU athletics, but he also placed a high value on education.
People who know Zenger say he also fits that mold. At a time when KU and other universities across the nation are struggling to find the proper balance between athletics and academics, Zenger seems like a good fit for Kansas.
Comments from KU faculty member Jerry Bailey, who sat on Zenger’s dissertation committee, provide the perfect resume for many Kansas fans. “He is smart as hell. He is generous. He remembers his roots. He is respectful.” Former KU assistant basketball coach Tim Jankovich, who worked with Zenger at Illinois State University added to the recommendation. “He has no ego and has tremendous character.”
Those descriptions probably wouldn’t have been the first to pop into anyone’s mind with either Bohl or Perkins, but they certainly applied to Frederick. Many people defended Perkins by saying he was “doing the job he was hired to do,” which was to raise money and build facilities at KU. Zenger, of course, will have to continue that trend to pay off the facilities and contract buyouts of the Perkins era. It also remains to be seen whether he can wield the needed clout to handle continuing conference realignments and other issues in the highly competitive arena of college sports.
Especially now, KU needs an AD who is smart, thoughtful and professional, someone who can play with the big names in college athletics while guarding the integrity and academic mission of the university.
It sounds like Zenger could be that man. We welcome him and wish him much success as KU’s athletic director.