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74 Days Until Kansas Football: Comparing Sheahon Zenger to Infamous Leaders in History

Time for a history lesson!

NCAA Football: SE Missouri State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about great leaders throughout history, it’s pretty natural for military leaders to come to mind. At least for me, names like George Washington, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and the like are usually the first ones my brain comes up with. That’s not to say there aren’t a myriad of other leaders from which to choose, perhaps someone like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, or Mahatma Ghandi. You can even find leaders in the world of sports, such as Phog Allen, Bear Bryant, or Michael Jordan.

But today, let’s have a little fun at former Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s expense. That $1.4M he received in his buyout should be plenty enough to wipe away any hurt feelings.

I wouldn’t necessarily call these people “great” leaders, but like Zenger, they were definitely popular leaders at one time, and all of them have gone down in history for one infamous reason or another.

Nicholas II, Russian Tsar, 1894-1917

Per Wikipedia, “Nicholas is generally considered to have been incompetent at the colossal task of ruling the enormous Russian Empire.” During his reign, the Russian Empire went from one of the great powers of the world to complete economic and military collapse.

Sounds a lot like Kansas football, right? From Orange Bowl to Charlie Weis in five years, although to be fair to Zenger, the football program was already on a downhill slide when he came to the office thanks to Lew Perkins.

Wilhelm II, German Emperor, 1888-1918

Known for being “bombastic and impetuous” and his “tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics,” Wilhelm is portrayed by modern historians as “the key figure in understanding the recklessness and downfall of Imperial Germany.”

In contrast to Wilhelm, Zenger was really good at using lots of words to say nothing at all. Nonetheless, Zenger presided over the downfall of Kansas football, with reckless hires like Charlie Weis and David Beaty only exacerbating the problem.

Daniel Snyder, Entrepeneur, Washington Redskins, 1999-Current

When Dan Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999, the franchise had a winning percentage of 0.493. Since then, the team has gone through eight head coaches in 17 years with a record of 132-171-1 (0.434). He has done plenty of things to alienate the fan base, including banning signs at games and suing season ticket holders who were unable to pay during the recession.

Sheahon Zenger’s reign of terror at Kansas included things like hiring Charlie Weis, continually telling the fanbase that progress shouldn’t be judged by the team’s wins and losses, and extending Beaty’s contract after it became obvious he wasn’t the answer and the program was somehow still going backward.

Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor, 49 BC - 44 BC

Per Wikipedia, Julius Caesar “was a Roman politician and military general who played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.” Once he was proclaimed “dictator in perpetuity,” elitists angered by his populist and authoritarian reforms began to conspire against him. When Julius Caesar was fired assassinated by Doug Girod Brutus, his death led to a series of civil wars that kept the constitutional government of Rome from being fully restored.

When Zenger received a raise and extension from an outgoing chancellor, it sure seemed like he was going to be “athletic director in perpetuity.” Just over a year later, however, Zenger is gone and the search for his replacement is underway. Obviously, it is our hope that the next AD leads us to a “Kansas Football Empire,” but we could do without the whole civil war part.

Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister, 1937-1940

Chamberlain’s claim to historical fame is his method toward foreign policy called appeasement. Much like Zenger’s improvements for sports other than football (Rock Chalk Park, the DeBruce Center, McCarthy Hall), Chamberlain’s actions were widely popular among the British at the time.

Unfortunately, this analogy obviously has to put Bill Self as Adolf Hitler, and will probably be the least popular among the RCT readership. Obviously, any AD at Kansas is going to have to give the basketball coach whatever he wants (appeasement), be it a player’s dorm or a new locker room, and work in the rest of the athletic department’s needs around that.

Ronald Reagan, US President, 1981-1989

In much the same way that Zenger was “a quarterback in sports,” Reagan was once a sports announcer on the radio in Iowa. Reagan’s career eventually led him to the presidency, much like Zenger’s career eventually led him to the top job at Kansas Athletics.

Reagan’s economic policy, dubbed “Reaganomics,” tripled the national debt and led to the United States going from the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor in less than eight years. Not to be outdone, Zenger reworked the lease for Rock Chalk Park, taking KU from being on the hook for $39M to over $100M.

Christopher Columbus, Maritime Explorer, 1492-1503

In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Columbus was looking for a shortcut to the East Indies. He thought instead of going south around Africa, maybe he could go west. When he arrived in the Americas, he thought he had arrived at his intended destination. Obviously, he was incorrect. His relationship with his benefactor, the Spanish crown, eventually strained and led to his arrest and dismissal as governor of Hispaniola.

Zenger liked to take shortcuts, too. Hiring Charlie Weis was supposed to bring immediate credibility to the program. Hiring David Beaty was supposed to salvage KU on the recruiting trail. Much like Columbus, Zenger knew where he wanted to go (a winning football program), but had no idea how to get there (Charlie Weis?) and never arrived at his intended destination (3-33 under David Beaty).

Benedict Arnold, Major General, US Army, 1775-1780

General Arnold was one of George Washington’s most trusted generals for the first five years of the American Revolution. He fought with distinction for the Patriots at Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, Ridgefield, Fort Stanwix, and Saratoga.

In 1779, Arnold married into a Loyalist family, and when given command of the garrison at West Point in August of 1780, he conspired with his wife and family friends to surrender the fort to the British. Arnold intentionally and systematically weakened West Point’s defenses and military strength while draining the fort’s supplies so that a siege would be more likely to succeed.

However, his plan was exposed in September when Patriot militia captured a courier who carried papers detailing the plot. Arnold managed to escape while the courier was hanged. He was then commissioned as a Brigadier General into the British Army, where he led raids in Virginia and Connecticut, including a massacre of surrendering Americans at the Battle of Groton Heights.

Arnold survived the war and after some failed business ventures in Canada (due to his unpopularity, no doubt caused by his reputation in the New World), he died in 1801 in exile in England.

What in the world does this have to do with Sheahon Zenger, you may ask. My response is simple. Did you ever consider the possibility that Zenger was a K-State spy, a double agent, or simply decided to betray KU shortly after taking the AD chair?

Born in Salina and raised in Hays, Zenger has two degrees from K-State. With the full support of the KU administration (the Chancellor’s trusted General), seven years ago at his introductory press conference he pledged to fix football (KU’s West Point). He’s hired and fired two football coaches, his football hires have combined for a 10-62 record, the program has lost 42-straight road games, home game ticket sales (not attendance) barely cracks 20,000, and fan apathy is at an all-time high (systematic weakening of defenses).

Additionally, he signed an extension/raise offered to him by an outgoing chancellor (promotion to Major General), then extended the current football coach’s contract while doubling that coach’s salary, a coach who is now 3-33 in three years and has just one (fluke) win over an FBS program.

Wouldn’t you say this athletic director is a traitor bent on the humiliation and destruction of the football program? At the very least, the evidence available doesn’t prove he’s NOT a traitor, and that’s good enough for me.


What leader most resembles Sheahon Zenger?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Nicholas II
    (12 votes)
  • 4%
    Wilhelm II
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    Daniel Snyder
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Julius Caesar
    (1 vote)
  • 6%
    Neville Chamberlain
    (3 votes)
  • 11%
    Ronald Reagan
    (5 votes)
  • 8%
    Christopher Columbus
    (4 votes)
  • 28%
    Benedict Arnold
    (13 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (Specify in Comments)
    (1 vote)
45 votes total Vote Now