KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger says football is the focus after signing extension

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger | Todd Feeback | File photo

By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger says one of the most exciting parts about his new three-year contract extension — announced by KU Athletics on Sunday — is that he believes good times are ahead.

“I think we have a number of programs that are really hot right now and a couple of others that are on their way,” Zenger told the Star in a phone interview Sunday. “I just look forward to watching the progress over the next couple years.”

Zenger’s new contract, which was officially signed a few weeks ago and increases his base salary from $619,000 to $700,000, will run through June 2021. He said the deal came about after months of conversation with KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who is retiring later this summer.

“Really it’s just in the natural evolution in the dialogue with your boss in our business,” Zenger said. “ … It was the right time. Really, there were other things we had to get done prior to that, but it was just time to do this.”

There were other factors involved. Many times coaches are extended before the final year of their contracts because otherwise it gives the appearance that their school is not committed to them. Athletic directors could be viewed the same way.

In a press release, Gray-Little was complimentary of Zenger’s work at KU.

“Since Sheahon’s arrival in Jan. 2011, Kansas Athletics has enjoyed success on and off the field,” Gray-Little said. “ … I am confident that under Sheahon’s leadership Athletics will experience even more success in the coming years.”

Under Zenger’s watch, KU has most notably added numerous construction projects, including Rock Chalk Park and the DeBruce Center, which houses the original rules of basketball. He has spoken previously about completing those ventures to “clear the deck” financially so focus could be placed on football and Memorial Stadium renovations — two things he now says are “really the top priorities for me in the next four years.”

“We want it to be a place that people just love to come to,” Zenger said of Memorial Stadium. “We have such history there. I think it’s the greatest setting in the nation for college football. We just need to get it to the point where it’s a place that’s just revered.”

KU men’s basketball coach Bill Self said he was happy for both Zenger and the department.

“Sheahon’s focus since he’s been here is to give the coaches what they need to be successful,” Self said. “We’ve got a bunch of teams doing really well, we’ve added great new facilities, and I can see things getting even better in the next few years.”

Zenger, like Self, was optimistic about what’s ahead for KU.

“Just excited,” he said. “For me, it’s always been about helping the young people, the student-athletes compete — on the field, in the classroom, in their personal lives. That’s why I’m in the business. I’m a teacher at heart.

“I just love being around them, and I love our coaches. I think we’ve got a great group.”

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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