In the final month before student-athletes began to report fully to the KU campus, the Director of Athletics, Sheahon Zenger, called for a mandatory all-staff meeting. This was the second such gathering Zenger hosted since his arrival. The message was very clear but not so simple. The tone was fair and strong, but Zenger’s frustration was unmistakable.
Just the day before, statistics pointed to the fact Kansas Athletics as a whole finished dead last in the Big 12 in overall program achievement for the 2010-11 school year. Without men’s basketball’s success, the depths of that ranking would only have been deeper.
Zenger’s message was succinct. Things had to change. From top to bottom, every coach, student-athlete and departmental employee would now be accountable for the change that would lead KU out of those depths. Zenger delivered the same message directly to every coach, to every team when they reported and to all student-athletes in one massive Allen Fieldhouse gathering – unprecedented in my 14 years at KU.
Now just weeks into the football, volleyball, soccer and cross country seasons it seems that message found its way into many hearts. Football is now 2-0 after a wild victory over Northern Illinois last night. Volleyball is off to a fast start which includes a victory Saturday over #6 Minnesota in an Iowa tournament. Soccer is showing great improvement and cross country dominated Missouri in Columbia yesterday morning.
The “Sheahawks” are flying high.
Granted, the day Turner Gill began to rebuild the Jayhawks preceded Zenger. After a struggling first season, the infusion of talented young players brings new hope for long-term success. Volleyball could point to their huge and talented sophomore class and key new freshman as keys to their early run. Soccer found a virtually entire new group of offensive players to electrify their offense. Cross country has been building depth in their distance ranks since assistant cross country and distance coach Michael Whittlesey joined coach Stanley Redwine’s staff. The dividends of this work might have come without Zenger.
Regardless, accountability was sorely needed. Zenger removed signs pointing to KU’s “Unparalleled Excellence” that rang hollow by performance on the field or courts. In their place, KU’s new credo “Assignment Correct, Fundamentally Sound, Mentally Tough.”
Add all that up, and to me, that means “Win!” I admit I am hardly the super team guy. Lots of sayings, quotes, coordinated gear and rah-rah mean less to me than the pure desire to do my very best. In doing so, I feel that winning desire helps the overall cause anyone requires, including Zenger. Thankfully, that desire has not left me even after so many years. My hope is that it will not leave me for years to come.
Winning teams make winning photographs. Work harder than others and good pictures come no matter the outcome, but the look on the face of a joyous winner can make those photographs great. Winning is fun. Winning photographs are even more fun, so let the Sheahawks continue to fly high.