LAWRENCE — Sheahon Zenger’s time as Kansas athletic director has come to an end.

Zenger was terminated without cause Monday by KU chancellor Douglas Girod, the university announced in a news release. Deputy athletic director Sean Lester will serve as interim athletic director, while former interim athletic director Drue Jennings (2003) will lead up a search process.

“This morning I met with Sheahon and relieved him of his duties,” Girod said. “Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and Kansas Athletics has improved in many ways under his leadership. But the department 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, a change in leadership is necessary.”

Per his contract, Zenger will be paid $1,419,309 for the remaining two years of his salary ($700,000) plus health insurance premiums.

Zenger had been with KU since his hiring in January 2011. Under previous chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, Zenger signed a three-year contract extension last May.

In a separate message posted as an open letter to his KU colleagues, Girod, who started as chancellor last summer, went into more detail on his decision to fire Zenger.

“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.”

KU football went 12-72 in the seven full seasons Zenger served as athletics director, including 3-33 under currenct coach David Beaty. Along with Beaty, who is entering his fourth year, Zenger also ahead of the 2012 season hired Charlie Weis, who went 6-22 in two-plus seasons in Lawrence. Jayhawk football has gone 3-60 in its last 63 conference contests and hasn’t won a road game since 2009.

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

Zenger’s signature accomplishments while at KU came on the facilities front, where he oversaw the approval and development of Rock Chalk Park, McCarthy Hall and the DeBruce Center. The “Raise the Chant” project, a $350 million fundraising effort focused primarily on renovating Memorial Stadium and introduced last fall, has begun with the in-progress construction of an indoor practice facility just west of Memorial Stadium, which will be renamed David Booth-Kansas Memorial Stadium after the donor who kick-started the “Raise the Chant” effort with a record $50 million donation.

“I want to thank Sheahon for his service during the past seven years,” said Girod, who highlighted Zenger’s achievements in facilities as well as “record-high student-athlete GPAs.” ”... Most importantly, he prioritized our student-athletes and represented KU with integrity and class.”