Photo: Jeff Jacobsen – Kansas Athletics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little today named Kansas native and KU graduate Sheahon(pronounced SHAY-un) Zenger the next director of athletics. Currently athletics director at Illinois State University, Zenger achieved multi-sport success and set academic records.
Zenger will be officially introduced at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, in Hadl Auditorium at KU’s Wagnon-Parrott Athletic Center. He will start at KU Feb. 1.
“With his experience and leadership skills, Sheahon Zenger is the best choice to lead Kansas Athletics into the future. He is exactly who we need as athletics director, working to ensure that every Jayhawk team succeeds on the field and in the classroom, as well as making sure our programs operate with the utmost integrity,” said Gray-Little.
Zenger recently led Illinois State to its second Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Trophy in three years. The Redbirds led the league with seven conference titles during the 2009-10 season and 17 teams advanced to post-season play during his tenure.
A native of Hays, Zenger earned a doctorate at KU. He has experience not only as an administrator, but as an educator, fundraiser and football coach.
The last three years saw Illinois State teams notch 16 top-five conference finishes in its 17 Valley sports, which is the highest percentage of top-five finishers in league history. Under Zenger’s leadership, Illinois State student-athletes have achieved record-high grade-point averages in each of the last four years, while the department saw an 65 percent increase in scholarship fund members.
The school also negotiated a new five-year apparel contract with Nike and completed capital projects including the completion of a $3.5 million baseball stadium.
Zenger coached football at Drake University, Kansas State University, the University of South Florida and the University of Wyoming. Before becoming AD at Illinois State, Zenger held a number of top fundraising positions at Kansas State University in the athletic department and the College of Business Administration.
“My earliest memories are in Lawrence, Kansas, watching KU football and basketball games,” Zenger said. “Sometimes in life things come full circle. The opportunity to stand side-by-side with KU’s student-athletes, coaches, administrators, donors and fans gives me great joy.”
“The history, tradition and excellence at KU are truly special. I thank Chancellor Gray-Little for her sincerity and graciousness in this process, and I thank President Bowman and Illinois State University for six of the best years of my life. I am fully expecting the same experience at KU,” he continued.
Zenger emerged as a finalist in a search process led by search committee chair Ray Evans. Evans said the committee placed high value on integrity, experience in hiring successful football and basketball coaches, ties with athletics directors at other BCS schools, and a demonstrated level of fundraising success, among other qualities.
“We’re elated to find someone of Sheahon’s caliber to be the AD at KU. He has a passion for helping student-athletes succeed and has great ties to Kansas and KU. Sheahon is someone who has already accomplished so much and we know he will lead the Jayhawks to the next level of success,” said Evans.
Sean Lester will continue his service as interim athletics director until Zenger’s start date.
Zenger is married to the former Pam McAnarney. The couple has three children: Luke, Abby and Jake. He received a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Kansas State.
He earned a doctorate in educational policy and leadership from KU in 1996 and during his graduate studies provided communications and special projects assistance to KU’s office of the executive vice chancellor.
What others are saying about the selection of Sheahon Zenger to lead Kansas Athletics
Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Self
“I’m very excited about Sheahon’s appointment. I don’t know him well personally, but (former KU assistant basketball coach and current ISU head basketball coach) Tim Jankovich has told me what a high-quality person and athletics director he is. I know he has a ton of energy, which is important as he leads us at this time of so much opportunity.”
Football Coach Turner Gill
From the beginning I have trusted the Chancellor and the search committee to find someone who is the right fit for KU. I support and am excited about the choice they’ve made. I have heard very positive things about Sheahon, and I look forward to working with him.”
Big 12 Conference Deputy Commissioner Tim Weiser
“I hired Sheahon as my associate AD for development for a variety of reasons and was not surprised when he quickly became AD at Illinois State and now at KU. He is a bright, passionate and above all, highly principled individual. He’s someone who is personable and compassionate, but who also now has the experience as AD at Illinois State to be ready to make the hard decisions that come with the job.
“In visiting with those at KU involved in this hiring, and knowing what they were looking for, Sheahon was an immediate candidate in my mind. One of the single most important factors when hiring for a position like this is ‘fit.’ Given his background at both KU and with the State of Kansas, there is no better fit for him than KU.”