LAWRENCE, Kan. – The University of Kansas fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger on Monday, with Chancellor Douglas Girod noting “progress has been elusive” in some areas other than the storied Jayhawks men’s basketball program.
The chancellor said Zenger had been a “loyal Jayhawk” and that athletics programs had improved. The men’s basketball team reached the Final Four earlier this year.
“But the department continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive,” Girod said. “To achieve the level of success we need and expect, a change in leadership is necessary.”
Zenger had been at Kansas since 2011. Deputy director Sean Lester will serve as interim athletic director while the university searches for a replacement.
The statement did not mention the football team, historically the worst in the Big 12 Conference. But the Jayhawks won only a single game last year, and none in the conference, after the department unveiled a $350 million plan to influential donors to upgrade its football stadium and other facilities.
The firing comes a year after Zenger received a four-year extension on his contract, through June 2021, and an increase in base pay to $700,000 a year. The university will pay Zenger more than $1.4 million under that contract, Girod said. Girod became chancellor in July 2017, after Zenger received his contract extension. He said that as a major public university with “national aspirations,” it 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,” he said.
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