Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger Press Conference Quotes

Jan. 3, 2011


Kansas’ new athletics director Sheahon Zenger was introduced to the Jayhawk community during a press conference on Monday, Jan. 3 in Hadl Auditorium on the KU campus. After opening statements from University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and search committee leader Ray Evans, Zenger addressed members of the media.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Opening Statement:

“Good afternoon, it is my pleasure to be with you here today to introduce the new Director of Athletics to the Jayhawk Nation. Strong universities have strong athletic programs, and Kansas Athletics is an integral part of our University. Our goal at Kansas Athletics is simple – winning; winning championships and winning in the classroom. Sheahon Zenger is the right man to build on KU’s history and tradition, and to take all Jayhawk teams to the next level. He has a wide range of experience that will serve KU well; he has served as a football coach, he knows what coaches need to do to win. He has served as a fundraiser; he knows how to build donor support. He knows how to be a leader; he has a wide range of experience – including his years at IllinoisState. Sheahon also has good relationships with other AD’s around the nation, including his work on the NCAA’s reinstatement committee. He has a vision on how to take Kansas Athletics to the next level, and to insure that the department operates to the upmost integrity. You may have noted that he is a Kansan and a KU graduate. As a child, he grew up just a few blocks from the Fieldhouse. Sheahon’s skills and experience make him the best person to lead Kansas Athletics into the future. He will take the baton from Interim Athletics Director Sean Lester – and I want to thank Sean for the work he has done over the past several months, and the work he will continue to do over the next few weeks.”

On how important it was to find someone with high integrity:

“As Ray (Evans) mentioned, we all spoke about integrity being an absolutely integral component, along with other qualifications, that were there for this position.”

On how much Zenger’s passion for KU impacted her decision:

“I think his passion was apparent in our first conversation that he was very interested in, and dedicated to, the University of Kansas. That was very important to me and to the University. His enthusiasm was genuine throughout all of our conversations.”

On where the decision on hiring an Athletic Director ranked in importance since her tenure at Kansa began:

“Obviously this is a very important decision, and one in which there is a great deal of interest. It is one in a number of major decisions that will be made this year.”

On how much pressure she felt to make the correct hire:

“There was a great deal of interest and expertise held by a large number of people. The Athletic Director position is a very important position here, and I received that message very well.”

Search Committee Leader Ray Evans

Opening Statement:

“If I could, first of all, I want to say thank you to the rest of the search committee: Ken Audus, from the school of pharmacy; Ritch Price, the baseball coach; Linda Ellis Sims, from ExxonMobil; Debbie Van Saun, associate athletics director; and Tom Ward, from Russell Stover. They have put in a ton of hours, and we would like to thank them for their devotion and loyalty to KU.When we set out to find the new Athletic Director about four months ago, we basically went into it with about three criteria in mind. One, that we wanted to have a process in place where we were able to insure the confidentiality of anybody that we might be talking to. Two, we needed to step back as a committee, to make sure we understood the proper criteria that we needed to have in the next Athletic Director. Three, we knew we needed to aim high – we needed to identify the pool of folks that would fit the criteria that we developed. We were very fortunate early on to have the help and recourses of two individuals – who prefer to remain confidential – without their assistance, we would have really scrambled coming out of the gate. With their assistance, we were able to identify very early on a pool of candidates that we knew would fit our criteria. We initially came up with about seven or eight different criteria, and as we expected, we ended up settling on 24 or 25 different criteria. Several of those criteria included things like `have they shown success in raising money and development? Have they built any athletic facilities successfully? Do they have significant ties within their own network in the Athletic Director community? Have they hired a successful football coach, have they hired a successful basketball coach? Do they have a special emphasis at some point in their career on football? Have they negotiated an adidas or Nike contract at any time? Have they negotiated an outstanding radio contract? Have they had the opportunity, either at the conference level or at their school, to negotiate a good TV contract?’ We had several of those kinds of criteria that we had in place – in the committee itself, we had different prioritization on the different criteria. The biggest thing for us was that this individual had to be someone of high integrity. This individual had to have exhibited at every place they have been a level of ethics that was uncommon in their career. As we went through our list for several months, it became very clear to us that several names kept emerging in the pool of folks that we were talking to. Early on we had a few of our confidential resources mention to us that there were several up and coming people in this industry. The name that kept coming up more and more was Sheahon Zenger. When Sheahon and I spoke for the first time, I believe we spoke for an hour and a half late at night, we got a sense right away, of the sense of ethics, the sense of sincerity, how exceptionally bright he is from an athletic administration standpoint, from an academic standpoint, and the type of person he is. The best piece of advice I think we received through this process from one of our so-called consultants, was to always be aware of who the best fit is at the University of Kansas in the year 2011, and in the next few years as we move forward. The landscape of collegiate athletics is changing, and in some senses might be very volatile. It became very, very important to us that we identify the single best fit at the University of Kansas. I am very excited that we were able to do that, and I’m very excited that it turned out to be Sheahon Zenger.”

On what other specifics the committee was looking for in a new Athletic Director:

“Compliance was one thing – where they had been, what they had done. Graduation rate was (also) very key.”

On the outside voices he heard from fans and alumni during the search process:

“There were a lot. From a positive standpoint, we had a lot of input – and we wanted a lot of input. To be able to call someone up and use their name was a door-opener that we would not have been able to get on our own. We wanted input from people; we wanted to hear if what we thought was a priority was also a priority to most of our fans.”

Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger

I’m humbled and honored to be joining the Jayhawk Nation as your Director of Athletics. As I look out in this crowd, I see faces from way back. Bernie Kish, Coach Cross, people from throughout my lifetime in this business.

First, I want to extend a couple thank yous. Chancellor (Bernadette Gray-Little), thank you for your grace and your sincerity throughout this process. I look forward to following your leadership at the University of Kansas. Second, Ray (Evans), if we can all muster the passion and energy that you have for Kansas Athletics, we will be heading in the right direction. Third, to the search committee, thank your for your time and for your effort. Finally, to my family, thank you for your time and your effort. My wife Pam, youngest son Jake, daughter Abby, son Luke, and a special surprise, I didn’t know this was going to happen until last night, but my parents, Weldon and Sharon Zenger. That’s when you know you’ve come home – when you can stand at a press conference with your mom.

My first memories of life, truly, are of at basketball games in Allen Fieldhouse and of football games at Memorial Stadium, although mom and dad were watching the budget, so my dad and brother went into the game for a dollar apiece and mom and my sister and I sat on The Hill. I remember climbing the scary staircase in Bailey Hall with my dad. Even in graduate school, I still thought it was scary. Until junior high, anytime I could pick a number, I picked number 10 for Bobby Douglass. Then they played me at left guard and that didn’t fit very well. My fourth grade school picture was taken in my Gale Sayers jersey.

As the years would pass, parents’ day in Memorial Stadium, Nolan Cromwell. Remember the day UCLA came in here No. 1 and went home not No. 1? Shooting jumpers in the driveway, imitating Darnell Valentine. Remember that one-handed, one-legged 12-foot jumper just inside the circle? I shot that hundreds of times, never quite to the success that Darnell had.

I stand proudly before you today as a humble servant of the Jayhawk family. First, I must pause and talk about another chapter that is coming to a close today. There is a special place in the middle of Illinois called Illinois State University with a man named President Al Bowman at the helm, wonderful coaches, outstanding staff and superb student-athletes. Today I stand on your shoulders. I thank you, I thank you, I thank you.

Some people in this profession dream of places like Notre Dame, Michigan or USC. I dream of the University of Kansas. James Naismith, Phog Allen, Bill Self, Allen Fieldhouse, Campanile, The Hill, Memorial Stadium, Jayhawk Boulevard, basketball, football and do not forget track and field (and) Coach Price and what he’s doing with baseball. There’s no place equal to Allen Fieldhouse in all of college athletics. Remember the Phog, the fight song, (the) Rock Chalk (chant). It doesn’t get any better than this.

The student body, the passion, the camp-outs, Waving the Wheat, the faculty, I look forward to joining you again. You taught me and I hope to represent you well. The alumni, no greater passion in all the land. The donors, your generosity drips from these facilities. The endowment of the institution, the Williams Fund. The fans, I can’t wait to watch you in action Wednesday night.

Who are we and who will we become as Kansas Athletics? With our history, our tradition, our excellence, our past, our present, our future. First, we will always remember those who went before us. Those who laid this great foundation. Second, I will ask every student-athlete, every coach and every staff member to be assignment-correct, fundamentally sound and mentally tough on the field of play, in the classroom and in our personal lives each and every day. To strive to become the best version of ourselves that we can be each and every day.

We will be a coach-centered Athletics Department. I will forever be a coach at heart, an educator. For example, I’ve never seen a principal that wasn’t first a teacher – as our Chancellor was first a professor, something that really drew me to her leadership. I’ve never seen a principal impact several hundred students on a daily basis, but they can impact 10, 20 or 30 teachers every day. We have more than 400 student-athletes, some of the greatest in the nation, in this department. I will be there each and every day for each and every one of you, but I can best be there by being there for your coaches and with your coaches each and every day. These coaches are and will be the face of college athletics. The staff and I will roll up our Crimson and Blue sleeves and support them every day in every way possible.

We, as a department, will always support the greater mission of this fine university. College athletic departments are often referred to as the “front porch” of a university. If that is truly the case, then I invite the faculty, the students, the staff and the alumni to put their furniture on our front porch. We will celebrate your achievements whenever possible just as you so often celebrate ours.

While I may have center stage for a brief moment here, I hope you can detect that this endeavor that we are undertaking is not about me. As I will tell the coaches, the staff and the student-athletes today and tomorrow, it’s not about me and it’s not about you either. It’s about us. We are Kansans. We are Jayhawks and I hope that when you and I look in the mirror today, and each and every day, that I see you and you see me. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

On evaluating teams and coaches:
“This is something I’ve been through the past six years. I believe everything that you do as a leader of an Athletics Department is about people skills and about one-on-one relationships. That’s something that will emerge over time as we get to know one another. We will go slowly in evaluations and get to know the depth, character and values of our coaches and our staff and how they fit at the University of Kansas. I have no concerns at this point. I think this place is fraught with tremendous people and I look forward to joining them and leading them.”

On how long it took to decide whether to come to Kansas:
“It took about 10 seconds. I want to be here. I want the Jayhawk Nation to know your footprint throughout this nation is just phenomenal. The span of the faithful of the Jayhawk Nation is incredible. I would tell you: stand tall, be humble and work hard. There are no secrets in this business. There is only hard work. Your coaches know that. Your student-athletes know that. Our staff members know that. That’s the dirty little secret in college athletics – there are no shortcuts. There’s only hard work.”

On his 90-day plan when he begins the job:
“First of all, that 90-day plan is broken down into three 30-day segments. The first focusing on interacting with student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff, deans, vice chancellors, community and civic organizations. The second section focusing a little more on contracts, policies, scheduling, things of that nature. The last 30 days being more geared toward things such as revisiting the Strategic Plan, which looks like a very good document and something I believe this Athletics Department has been following.”

On possible future conference realignment:
“I think we continue being Kansas. We bring a lot to the table. We get all of our programs to rise to the level that Kansas ought to be. The chancellor and I will do our best to work within this country to make the connections we need to, but first and foremost, we are a proud member of the Big 12 Conference.”

On why he chose to get out of football coaching and become an administrator:
“Probably because I was the coach that the head coach kept giving all of the administrative duties to. I kept interacting with the AD all the time and one day I looked at him and said “maybe I should put my ladder on that wall.” I did and it went really, really fast. I might still the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator somewhere if I had kept my ladder on the other wall. I never claimed to be a good coach. I just said I coached.”

On how he plans to get the other programs to the sustained success of men’s basketball:
“I would say that’s something I would like to address. What we have to do is sit down here in the next six months and evaluate each program, the history, the tradition, the funding, the facilities before you can evaluate who ought to be where. That’s the only way to be fair to each and every program. That is something that I am very proud of that we accomplished at Illinois State. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t do that alone. I’m going to need these coaches, this staff, these student-athletes, each and every one of these donors. We have to come together as a Jayhawk Nation. One for all, all for one. Same bus, same direction.”

On Bill Self largely being the face of the university nationally:
“He will continue to be the face. All I can say is it’s Kansas basketball. We are going to celebrate that and we going to keep it where it’s at. I will do everything in my power to help him do what he needs to do here to stay in that point position in this country.”

On the football program:
“That will rise as well. I have met Coach (Turner) Gill. He is a good man. I look forward to working with him. He has a strong staff. You know their history. You know their pedigree. I look forward to seeing what they can do in the next year or two getting this thing going.”

On how athletics fits into the larger university setting:
“The definition of a university is a community of scholars. From that nucleus of scholars come your students. From your students come all of the extra-curricular activities. We are here to enhance the mission of the university. In order to do that, you need to get to know those scholars. I feel like I know a bunch of them already and I can’t wait to get to know the rest. There is no finer group of scholars in my past than I found at this institution.”

On the speculation that Bubba Cunningham was offered the job first and turned it down:
“I received a phone call from Ray (Evans). It makes it a little bit sweeter, doesn’t it? Nobody has ever given me anything in athletics. I can tell you that. School came a little easier, but it never came easy. My dad taught me the word perseverance, so much so that my cousins called him that. I relish that opportunity. The tortoise and the hare – I don’t mind being the tortoise.”