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With football progress 'elusive,' Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger was fired on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner File)

Kansas is making a change.

University chancellor Douglas A. Girod announced Monday morning that athletic director Sheahon Zenger had been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Zenger had been the Jayhawks’ athletic director since January 2011.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership. But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary,” Girod said.

An obvious challenge for Kansas athletics has been its football program. Upon his arrival, Zenger was tasked with turning the Jayhawks around. Instead, things have gone backwards. Zenger, after moving on from Turner Gill, hired ex-Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis with disastrous results.

The Jayhawks went a combined 4-20 in Weis’ first two seasons. After a 2-2 start in year three, Zenger fired Weis.

“We have not made the on-the-field progress we believe we should,” Zenger said after firing Weis. “I believe new leadership gives our coaches and players the best chance to make a fresh start.”

From there, Zenger brought in Texas A&M assistant David Beaty to lead the charge in a massive rebuild. It’s been a tough climb. In Beaty’s three seasons, Kansas has a 3-33 record, with just one win in Big 12 play during that time.

In his statement, Girod said Beaty’s job is safe for now. No other coaches were included in Girod’s statement.

“I spoke with coach Beaty and shared my expectation that he will continue recruiting hard and getting his team ready for the season,” Girod said.

While the men’s basketball program flourished, Kansas football went 12-72 during Zenger’s stint as AD with only three of those 12 wins coming in conference play. Zenger was able to raise money for a new indoor football facility and renovations to Memorial Stadium, but those commitments hadn’t translated to on-field success.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod said. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we 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 broader mission as a flagship research university.”

With Zenger out of the picture, deputy athletic director Sean Lester will take on the interim AD role.

Drue Jennings, a former KU interim AD who led the search that landed basketball coach Bill Self, will lead the search to find Zenger’s successor, Girod said. The school will also enlist Jed Hughes, a consultant for search firm Korn Ferry, to assist Jennings.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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