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Friday, May 6, 2011

Tait

KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger’s approach refreshing

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A couple of weeks ago, I observed new Kansas University athletic director Sheahon Zenger on the job.

His personality and genuine interest in the people he’s talking with make it seem as if Zenger is always on the job. But don’t confuse being on for being on the job. Zenger’s always on.

I was able to catch a behind-the-scenes look at the way he conducts business in the Dolph Simons Media Communications Conference Room at the Wagnon Student-Athlete Center. Zenger, KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and the Kansas Athletics, Inc., board of directors, were there for their quarterly meeting. It was the second such meeting Zenger had attended and already he looked comfortable.

In a meeting weighed down by technical jargon and seemingly endless reviews of and changes to the organization’s bylaws, Zenger lent a fresh, energetic touch.

We’ve all seen his public handshakes and smiles. Behind closed doors, Zenger has them too. In this setting, they were neither quite as glowing nor as long, appropriately so because just about everyone in the room worked for him. Not that you would have known that from watching.

Sitting at the head of the table, Zenger was just as happy to let others handle the day’s business as to interject his thoughts. When he did, he spoke in a rational, calm, strong and confident manner and seemed content to simply nod approval when appropriate. As easy as it would have been for Zenger to stand tall and speak loudly on every topic, it was obvious he was not interested in making it about him. There was work to be done, and he forged through it in a way that seemed to say, “Might as well have fun doing it.”

Though he’s been in town for just four months, questions have surfaced about whether the forever-smiling face has what it takes to handle the grunt and grind that comes with big-time collegiate athletics. Those I spoke with who worked for him at Illinois State laughed at the notion that Zenger wasn’t tough enough. At the meeting, Zenger demonstrated his mind is always working toward solutions to make the grind less grimy.

On one occasion, Zenger circled back to an item that had passed. He wanted to make sure the language with which a change was written was as clear as possible. A few minutes earlier, Zenger put on display his compassion, when he said that his only concern about changing the name of the chancellor’s advisory committee to the athletics advisory committee (or something of the like) was that it not offend those who serve on it. As Zenger put it, “It’s important that they don’t feel that it’s a demotion.”

Finally, when the board discussed whether adding the words “is bound to act in accordance with Big 12 and NCAA rules,” to its bylaws was necessary, Zenger moved to the edge of his seat and jumped in.

“I’m thinking really out of the box here,” he said. “Let’s say 20 years down the road, 50 schools disagree with something the NCAA does. Are we bound to stay with them if we put this in or can we...”

A couple of board members quickly informed the bylaws can be amended at any time.

“OK. That’s great,” Zenger said. “That’s all I needed to know.”

Impressive. Think more Bill Gates and less Donald Trump.

Comments

slantrox 3 years, 3 months ago

I kept expecting you to change the name Sheahon Zenger to Barack Obama at any moment. Did you use a template for this story?

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Keith Hummel 3 years, 3 months ago

Always helpful to infuse politics into any discussion.

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Jason Bailey 3 years, 3 months ago

Matt: You seem surprised by the fact that a leader acts like a leader. The way Zenger is behaving is exactly what I expect in a highly-paid, department head. The strong-armed bully type of leader is the exception that should be written about.

I'm glad to read this about Zenger but, like I said, this is what I expect. No surprises there.

But the quote of "thinking out of the box"....that was actually funny. I think it's hilarious when executives use trite, overused phrases in their business vernacular.

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DevilHawk 3 years, 3 months ago

I don't think it's an issue of being surprised at Zenger's actions. This is what we had heard about him. It seems more along the lines of "KU hired the guy that they thought they hired."

That doesn't always happen.

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Jason Bailey 3 years, 3 months ago

Matt: You seem surprised by the fact that a leader acts like a leader. The way Zenger is behaving is exactly what I expect in a highly-paid, department head. The strong-armed bully type of leader is the exception that should be written about.

I'm glad to read this about Zenger but, like I said, this is what I expect. No surprises there.

But the quote of "thinking out of the box"....that was actually funny. I think it's hilarious when executives use trite, overused phrases in their business vernacular.

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Keith Hummel 3 years, 3 months ago

I agree with Jason that there isn't much to be gleaned from this story, but I don't think it was ever intended to win a Pulitzer for hard-hitting investigative journalism. As Matt stated in the article, there have been questions about whether Zenger has what it takes to lead a big-time college athletic department. As annoying as they may be, I'm sure folks like ahperse (who will be on shortly I'm sure with his usual anti-Zenger zingers) represent a certain segment of KU Alumni who are skeptical. I think Matt's intent was simply to give us an inside look at Zenger's style and demeanor, and to say he (so far) appears comfortable, confident, and competent. Will that stop folks from saying Zenger and Gill are destroying KU athletics? Of course not. But I find it reassuring to hear he doesn't appear the least bit overwhelmed or out of his realm. This early in his tenure that's about the all reassurance we're going to get.

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Keith Hummel 3 years, 3 months ago

Meant to say above "...that's about all the reassurance we're going to get". My dyslexia got me again.

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baldwinjhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

Who ever said , (ahpersecoachingexperience) was an alumni? I think he's just another troll on here to annoy us. (probably a mizzloser alum) If Zenger runs a clean program and let's Bill run the bball team, that's a job well done. This season will tell us what's in store for us with the football team. All of our other D1 sports are really sucking right now, so the only way is up from here. I say give him a chance and he might just surprise everyone.! At the very least maybe nobody else will have to do jail time.... RCJH

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John Randall 3 years, 3 months ago

BaldHawk – dispersing aspersions in the direction of AsspersonExpertise does seem to one of the more pleasant off-season activities in these parts, doesn't it?

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ahpersecoachingexperience 3 years, 3 months ago

starting to get real tired of this! yes "the little engine that couldn't" drives me crazy and we will talk about four months on the job and all he has done is sit quietly at a meeting. but tait c'mon man! for as much as everyone loves your instant replies on specific details with our football team, you're starting to kill me with your never ending homerism and jock sniffing. now as you will be able to guess by my spelling, grammer (<--did that on purpose), over use of ,'s, and never ending sentences, i did not go to j school. but i'm guessing at some point you had to take a course on being critical. it's ok to question and be skeptical. just because you are doesn't mean you are not a fan.

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KGphoto 3 years, 3 months ago

It's KUsports.com moron. Not 60minutes or 20/20.

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Matt Tait 3 years, 3 months ago

Always enjoy your feedback.... All I can say here is if there were a reason to be critical, I would've been. But at this meeting, at least, there wasn't. No homerism or fandom behind this article. Most folks can't get into these meetings to observe Zenger for themselves. I just wanted to take you behind the closed door so you could see what's up. Stay tuned...

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Jayhawk1116 3 years, 3 months ago

You obviously took the course on being critical. And you're killing me with your persistent negativity. It ain't cute anymore.

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bad_dog 3 years, 3 months ago

And so it only took you 6 posts to finally get to your point. Not that anyone actually had to Wait. For. It. to know what was coming...

Were I you, I wouldn't lead off any of your posts with a phrase like "starting to get real tired of..." A simple declaratory sentence that captures the essence of my opinion of your posts and apparent mindset. We can all handle objective criticisms, but your observations seldom focus on anything other than negativity. So much negativity man...

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LAJayhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

And yet blind negativity is just as bad if not worse than "never ending homerism."

Time to hang a mirror in the house.

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milehighhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

Bill Gates wasn't the nicest guy to work for either - kind of a tyrant who belittled those around him, according to the 60 Minutes profile on him a couple weeks back.

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gl0ck0wn3r 3 years, 3 months ago

When will he begin cleaning house there? Is there any reason the East Coast mafia is still employed?

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actorman 3 years, 3 months ago

"And you're killing me with your persistent negativity. It ain't cute anymore."

Was it EVER cute??? I don't think the word "cute" belongs in the same hemisphere as a post by that nattering nabob of negativism, ahperse ...

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waywardJay 3 years, 3 months ago

Persy has a point, it's kind of muddled in his anti-logic, but sometimes a negative and a negative makes a positive.

It's nice to know that our writers who inform us are not on the coattails of a Regime.

I think you do go at it with a skeptical mindset,and for that you are given Kudos. + 1

However, on occasion, It is nice to be reminded ( key word on occasion, not every friggin' article....sometimes multiple times in the same article repeating the same tired lines ) that there is another view out there, all be it a view that has shown resistant to logic.

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Dyrk Dugan 3 years, 3 months ago

i mean it's interesting about how an AD acts at the KUAC meetings....but in reality, it doesn't mean anything.

i want to know how he holds his coaches accountable...and how the integrity of the dept. day to day is managed. that's basically his main two gigs. everything else is secondary. Because as we saw from the previous regime, it doesn't matter how flashy your fund raising, the day to day apparatus of college athletics MUST be attended to...and your coach hiring and/or development, is a MUST as well.

at this point, besides mens basketball...and possibly mens track, ALL of our athletic teams are near the bottom...so there is no where to go but up. the question is: how do we get there? Does Mr. Zenger see us getting there?

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