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83 Days Until Kansas Football: Why Sheahon Zenger got Fired

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I’m not on the KU beat and I don’t know people in the know, but I think more than football cost Zenger his job.

Jayhawk

On Friday, June 8, Vahe Gregorian at the KC Star wrote this regarding former Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger:

... when Kansas fired him last month for no discernible reason other than his inability to revive a distressed football program ...

Seriously?

I know this may come as a surprise to you guys, but I’m not a KU beat reporter. Neither is Mr. Gregorian, although I’m sure he has a LOT more contacts than I do of people that are “in the know.”

Still, that’s quite a statement.

Local KU conspiracy theorist Kevin Keitzman believes that Zenger was canned over the FBI probe into college basketball and the cheerleader hazing scandal, but only one of those even kinda makes sense. Besides, KU Chancellor Girod expressly denied that either of these events had anything to do with Zenger’s ouster.

Obviously, football was the primary reason for a change in athletic director. After all, Zenger set out to find the best, and he found Charlie Weis. Then, two years later, he brought us the wide receivers coach from Texas A&M. All of that has led to a 10-62 record in football, a 0.139 winning percentage.

Fan support on gamedays is at an all-time low, and I’m guessing that’s being reflected in donations to the Williams Fund as well. (We’ve still got this clown in charge of the Williams Fund who thinks that you’re not buying enough football tickets.) So sure, football is the primary reason for Zenger’s firing. But let’s do some quick research - something Mr. Gregorian apparently couldn’t be bothered to do - and see what else we can come up with.

Fundraising

No doubt directly tied to football, as just mentioned, but I have a hunch that fundraising goals have not been going well. This is one area where Mr. Gregorian could likely gather more information that I can, because I can only point to two quotes that give me this thought.

After firing Zenger, Chancellor Girod said the following:

But the department continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive.

Key areas like football? Obviously. What about key areas like fundraising? That must be asked, because a few sentences later, Girod also said:

A lot of good things are going on there (in athletics), but I think we’ve just lost some of our momentum, and that being the case, it was time for a leadership change.

I ask because last fall, KU Athletics announced a huge $350 million renovation to Memorial Stadium. The latest information I can find is from October of 2017, but as of that point, only $20M had been raised (not including the $50M jump-start lump sum from David Booth). When asked directly in April how much had been raised, Zenger refused to answer.

This is obviously speculation on my part, but I’m guessing the fundraising wasn’t going as planned, and Girod didn’t want these renovations to go the way of the Gridiron Club.

Coaching Hires

Zenger was brought on board in February of 2011. In that time, he’s hired five coaches, including two football coaches, the disastrous hires of Charlie Weis and David Beaty.

For the women’s basketball team, Zenger brought in Brandon Schneider, who is three years in and has a 26-65 overall record, just 5-49 in Big 12 play. Despite some flashy recruits - mostly transfers - Schneider has struggled in conference play, and the Jayhawks just haven’t been competitive at all, even with the bottom of the conference.

Zenger’s other two hires are, surprisingly, success stories. He hired men’s golf coach Jamie Bermel in July of 2012, who has steadily improved the program and made the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2000 this season and hired women’s tennis coach Todd Chapman. Chapman has led the Jayhawks to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in 17 years and is recruiting at a high level.

The two football coaching hires are enough to justify a change in AD, but the women’s basketball coach is the cherry on top. And then extending Beaty and doubling his salary after his second year on the basis of what, a fluke win against Texas? Unforgivable.

Facilities

Zenger supporters will point to the facilities that have been built over the past seven years, including McCarthy Hall, the DeBruce Center, and Rock Chalk Park, which included facility upgrades for softball, tennis, track, soccer, and golf.

McCarthy and DeBruce are no-brainers and any KU AD’s responsibility - you pretty much give Bill Self whatever he asks for. Rock Chalk Park was recently in the news because Zenger recently re-worked the lease, putting KU Athletics on the hook for potentially millions of dollars more than the original lease.

So, Mr. Gregorian, I certainly think that much more when into the firing of Sheahon Zenger than just football. That said, it would be illogical to deny that football was the primary catalyst. However, I don’t think that Zenger’s “inability to revive a distressed football program” was the only discernible reason for his ouster.