Chancellor Douglas A. Girod today announced that Director of Athletics Sheahon Zenger has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately.
“This morning I met with Sheahon and relieved him of his duties,” Girod said. “Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and Kansas Athletics has improved in many ways under his leadership. But the department continues to face a number 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’s employment agreement is terminated without cause. Per that agreement, he will be paid two years of his salary of $700,000, plus health insurance premiums, for a total of $1,419,309.
Sean Lester, deputy athletics director, will serve as interim director.
“I have spoken with Sean about my expectations for the coming months,” Girod said. “I am confident he will provide sound leadership and stability during this transition.”
The chancellor has already begun the process of identifying a permanent athletics director. To lead this process, Girod has enlisted Drue Jennings, who served as interim athletics director in 2003 and led the search processes that brought Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and Coach Bill Self to KU. Jed Hughes, a consultant with the Korn Ferry executive search firm, will assist Jennings.
“Drue is one of our most respected and accomplished alumni, and he has a proven record of identifying talented leaders,” Girod said. “With his assistance, I am confident we will bring terrific new leadership to Kansas Athletics.”
In a message to the KU community, the chancellor provided context for his decision.
“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” he wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our mission as a flagship research university.
“The other common thread in these conversations is optimism for Kansas Athletics,” he wrote. “Across the country, we are recognized as having elite programs, a proud tradition and a loyal fan base. These assets will serve us well as we identify a new athletics director.”
The chancellor also discussed KU football in his campus message.
“I spoke with Coach Beaty earlier today and shared my expectation that he will continue recruiting hard and getting his team ready for the season,” Girod wrote.
Zenger shared the following statement regarding today’s announcement: “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the University of Kansas and work with so many talented coaches, administrators and student-athletes, as well as Jayhawks across the state and nation. I’m proud of our successes during the past seven years, most of all the accomplishments of our student-athletes and coaches. I hope our fans know I did my best and always prioritized our student-athletes. I am grateful to Chancellor Gray-Little and Chancellor Girod for giving me this opportunity, and I will always be a Jayhawk.”
Girod pointed to a number of successes under Zenger’s leadership, including record-high student-athlete GPAs, a national championship for the women’s outdoor track & field team, seven individual national championships, and the construction of Rock Chalk Park, McCarthy Hall and the DeBruce Center.
“Most importantly, Sheahon prioritized our student-athletes and represented KU with integrity and class,” Girod said. “We thank him for his service, and we wish him the best.”