About that name … it’s ZENG-er

Tom Cross, a former football coach of Sheahon Zenger at Hays High School, greets Zenger, right, after he was introduced as the new Kansas University athletic director. Zenger has lived in Lawrence, Manhattan, Hays and Salina in Kansas.

Jayhawk fans worried about nailing down the pronunciation of new Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s first name need look no farther than Tom Cross for help.

Cross, Zenger’s football coach at Hays High in the 1980s, had a simple way around the issue.

“Officials used to always ask me, ‘Now, what’s his name?’ And I’d say, ‘Zenger,'” Cross said Monday, moments after his former quarterback was introduced as KU’s 16th athletic director. “They’d say, ‘No, I mean his first name.’ And I’d go, ‘I don’t know, I just call him ‘Hey Zenger.’ I don’t call him Sheahon, I just say, ‘Hey Zenger.'”

While that works for Cross, who’s still in the coaching business with weight lifters in Olathe, it’s far from the worst Zenger’s heard throughout his life.

“If you mispronounce it, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s been getting mispronounced my whole life.”

Rightfully so. The name Sheahon is a derivative of the Irish surname, Sheehan, which means “peaceful.”

So where did Zenger get the name?

“My mom’s name’s Sharon, my older brother’s name is Sheldon, my sister’s name is Shannon,” he said. “(My mom) wanted to give me a two-syllable, ‘Sh’ name and didn’t want it to be Sherman, no offense to the Shermans out there. We lived in Salina and there was a long-standing family there by the name of Sheahon. She thought it was neat. It’s an Irish last name, and she stuck it on me.”

Though his approach to running an athletic department, which he did for six years at Illinois State before being sought by Kansas, is refreshing for the times, Zenger’s passion for KU is anything but peaceful. He spoke Monday of an intense love for all things Kansas and did so with the kind of zest and electricity you’d expect to see from a man who just landed his dream job.

There’s a reason for that, Cross says. It’s just the way Zenger does things.

“When I was running my guys, I never liked to run ’em in a line across because they were always looking around to see how they were doing compared to Joe,” Cross said. “I liked to run ’em one at a time. How are you doing compared to you? I think he’s kind of that way.”

Zenger officially begins his career at KU on Feb. 1. Until then, he’ll return to Normal, Ill., where he’ll pack his belongings and say goodbye to some great friends, all with one eye on Kansas.

Don’t expect him to forget anything. At either place.

“He just always took care of the little details,” Cross said.