David Booth, the University of Kansas and Lawrence High alumnus, who bought, then brought the rules of basketball to KU and recently pledged $50 million toward a $350 million fundraising campaign centered around a football stadium renovation, says he received a courtesy phone call from KU chancellor Douglas Girod on Monday morning informing him of the big news of the day.
“He called and told me that he had chatted with Sheahon (Zenger, KU athletic director) and decided to terminate the relationship. So I said, ‘Well I wish you well on that.’ I mean that’s the extent of it,” Booth told The Star on Tuesday in a phone conversation from Austin, Texas, where is he chairman and CEO of Dimensional Fund Advisors.
“He said he’d already terminated Sheahon. He said they were going to be starting a search for a new athletic director. That was it. ... I was shocked. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. There’s never an easy way to do this sort of thing. Anyway, Girod did what he thought he had to do. We’ll see how it turns out.”
Even though Booth said he likes Zenger — “I don’t think I’ve met anybody that didn’t like Sheahon,” Booth said — he is accepting of Girod’s decision to remove Zenger from his post and find a new person to run KU’s athletic department.
“I just got to meet him after he got appointed,” Booth said of Girod. “I really like the guy. He is really sharp. I think it takes a lot of confidence to terminate Sheahon in his first year in the office. Part of me says that’s a pretty good signal, even though I like Sheahon a lot.
“I have no opinion on whether it was the right action. I’m not saying what he (Girod) did was the right call or a bad call or any kind of call. It was his judgment. I’ll respect it. Over time he’ll be known for the decisions he makes and we’ll see."
Booth stressed: “I”m sorry to see Sheahon go and I’m still a big supporter of KU and will continue to be a big supporter. I’m happy to be able to do what I do in terms of supporting. It’s nice to be able. I think a lot of people would do it if they have the means. I’m happy to be in a lucky spot.”
Booth stressed that he’s not the type of person to interfere — in any way — regarding such a decision to remove an AD.
“He (chancellor) checks in. I told him right away I have an opinion, but I’m not going to give it to him. I appreciate the courtesy of a call but I can understand why he’d do it. He has to run his show. Sometimes people think if you are a big donor they are going to ask you your opinion. Maybe they would. But I go out of my way to tell them, ‘I think I do a pretty good job running my business. I don’t know anybody else’s business.’
“If I felt I had something to add, I’d get involved. I don’t have anything to add (regarding deciding to keep or replace an AD). What do I know? I’ve worked hard to develop an expertise in my business. It doesn’t mean because I do a pretty good job running my business I know how to run somebody else’s business, turning it around. I find it irritating when people gratuitously offer their suggestions on what I ought to do when they don’t really know my business. That’s why I’m sensitive about that.
“Look, Kansas is in the top of the food chain in terms of conferences. It’s very competitive. That’s the way business is played. You struggle and people make changes.”
Booth said he’s not downcast over KU’s struggles in football.
“Maybe this is a year things get turned around. We’re hopeful for another season,” he said, adding that he hopes fans donate to the fund for stadium improvements. “KU has shown when they do have good teams people show up and support it (football). All you can do is give it your best shot and hope for the best.”
Booth was asked if he was concerned about the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting and alleged payments from shoe companies to families of Jayhawks players as well as a recent report of KU cheerleader hazing.
“I mean the FBI … I think it is outrageous that we are spending tax dollars for them to go out and figure out that somebody got a free lunch,” Booth said. “It’s just outrageous.”
He said if there was wrongdoing as far as the report of hazing “it needs to be punished when you catch it (alleged improper behavior).”
Booth, in a 15-minute phone conversation, stressed the positives of Zenger’s years at KU.
“I went to a sports dinner, a kickoff dinner in the fall," he said. “I was really super impressed with the quality of coaches up and down the line, what good people they are. I think Sheahon should feel good about that. It’s easy to point out some of the problems. But he came in at a real tough time, during the major conference realignment a few years ago. He handled himself well and represented KU very well through all that, a very stressful time.
“We have a great group of coaches. I think there’s a lot he should feel proud of in his time here,” stressing that Zenger “is a great guy. Everybody likes the guy. I think Girod likes him as well. I just think he felt he had to do something.”