Sheahon Zenger, Director of Athletics
Dr. Sheahon (SHAY-un) Zenger is a coach at heart. But when KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little introduced the Hays, Kan., native as KU's Athletics Director January 3, 2011, he promised not to call any plays for the coaches. That doesn't mean, though, that he won't be right there with them - and their student-athletes - every step of the way. For it's his genuine care for coaches and student-athletes that has stamped his career in intercollegiate athletics.
Zenger comes to KU after serving for five years as athletics director at Illinois State University, helping steer ISU Athletics to a place of prominence in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds won a conference-leading seven league titles during the 2009-10 season and captured their second Valley All-Sports Trophy in three years.
ISU's Weisbecker Scholarship Fund membership grew 65 percent during his tenure, and capital projects boomed. The Illinois State Baseball Stadium at Duffy Bass Field was officially dedicated in May 2009 to culminate the completion of that $3.5 million project. In addition, funding for the Redbird Arena locker room improvements has also been secured.
With experience as an educator, coach, fundraiser and administrator, Zenger brought a plan to Illinois State, and with the help of the head coaches and administrative staff, personalized that strategic plan for Redbird Athletics. As a result, the athletics department saw record-high grade-point averages (GPA) in each of the last four years, including a best-ever department-wide 3.13 GPA in fall 2009. Redbird student-athletes now regularly carry a GPA of 3.0 or better. ISU student-athletes have also contributed more than 2,000 hours of community service in each of the last five years, including 3,500 hours during the 2009-10 athletic season.
In addition to Valley All-Sports titles in 2008 and 2010, in his last three years at ISU Zenger led the department to 16 top-five finishes in its 17 Valley sports - the highest percentage of top-five finishers in league history.
Zenger secured a five-year apparel contract for Redbird Athletics, and significantly increased the marketing of the program in the Central Illinois region, most notably with a campaign centered on the award-winning marketing campaign "Spread the Red." He also witnessed record-setting attendance figures in football, men's basketball and women's basketball, while seeing 17 Redbird teams advance to postseason play.
At the beginning, Zenger wasn't headed toward a career in administration. He was nine years old when he told his father he wanted to be a coach, and it didn't take long for that dream to materialize. After playing football at Fort Hays State and Mid-American Nazarene College, he finished his undergraduate degree at Kansas State. Even before he received his bachelor's degree in English and secondary education in 1988, Zenger was assisting the football coaches at Manhattan (Kan.) High School. His first college football coaching job came at Drake University right after graduation.
In 1989, at age 23, Zenger joined Bill Snyder's staff at Kansas State as one of the nation's youngest full-time football staff members; he served in key roles as assistant recruiting coordinator and director of football operations. Zenger completed his master's degree in journalism and mass communication in 1992 while helping Snyder bring Wildcat football to unprecedented success.
It became evident, though, that more than coaching was in store for Zenger. He sought advice from then-KU Chancellor Gene Budig, who convinced him to pursue a Ph.D. at KU. As he completed his Ph.D. in educational policy and leadership (1996), Zenger contributed communications and special projects support to the office of the executive vice-chancellor, Ed Meyen, and wrote the professional life history of then-chancellor Del Shankel, while strengthening his understanding of university leadership at the highest levels.
While focusing his attention on academics, he managed to stay involved in the world of intercollegiate athletics, and specifically football. 'Involved' may be an understatement. In 1993 Zenger and a friend founded American Football Quarterly, a magazine for coaches. Zenger served as publisher - and then editor - until 1995, when he sold his share of the by-then-thriving magazine.
Still, coaching stayed in his blood. After earning his doctorate, Zenger in 1996 signed on as the recruiting coordinator for the brand-new NCAA Division I football program at the University of South Florida. A year later he joined the University of Wyoming football staff as recruiting coordinator and within two years rose to assistant head coach, a position he still considers one of the crowning achievements of his career.
Zenger stayed at Wyoming through the 2000 season before returning to Kansas State. He spent a year in the KSU College of Business, raising more than $2 million and restructuring its development program with research and planning. He rejoined KSU Athletics in 2001 as assistant athletics director for major gifts, helping KSU initiate important development strategies. In 2002 he was appointed KSU's associate athletics director for development, a position he held until 2005, when he was named Athletics Director at Illinois State.
A published author and researcher, Zenger served for three years on the NCAA Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement. He also served on two NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Division committees, and was a member of the Executive Committee of NACDA's Division I FCS Athletic Directors Association.
He is also a member of many professional and university organizations, including the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the American Football Coaches Association.
Zenger is married to the former Pam McAnarney. The couple has three children: Luke (14), Abby (12) and Jake (10).