Richard Konzem, an associate athletic director at the University of Kansas for 23 years who played roles in the hiring of Hall of Fame basketball coaches Roy Williams and Bill Self, will retire on Dec. 31 after more than 40 years in intercollegiate athletics.
Konzem — he’s worked at Rockhurst University in roles as athletic director (2007-11) and golf coach (past eight years) and also at Benedictine College as AD (2006-07) — was recognized for his years of service by Rockhurst officials and his former golfers at a recent Hawks basketball game.
“Like coach Waugh used to say, ‘There comes a time to put the ball down and come home for supper,’’’ Konzem said, quoting one of his mentors, former KU golf coach, assistant basketball coach and assistant AD Jerry Waugh, who died in September at the age of 95.
Konzem worked at KU from 1981 to 2004 under the supervision of athletic directors Bob Marcum, Bob Frederick, Del Shankel (interim), Monte Johnson, Jim Lessig, Al Bohl, Drue Jennings (interim) and Lew Perkins. He was willing to share memories of his days at KU in a 45-minute conversation with The Star.
Konzem, Doug Vance greeted Roy Williams at KCI
Konzem recalls the time Frederick — in the pre-internet days — removed a picture of North Carolina assistant coach Roy Williams from the UNC hoops media guide. He gave the picture to Konzem and KU assistant AD Doug Vance and asked the duo to greet Williams off his flight into Kansas City and drive him to Lawrence.
Williams, then a largely unknown coach, had accepted Frederick’s offer to replace Larry Brown as KU head coach prior to the 1988-89 season.
“That was a time before there was so much social media,” Konzem said. “Bob sent Doug and myself to the airport because media members were camped out at Bob’s house watching his comings and goings. Coach Williams flew in commercially. At the time there was nowhere to eat around the airport, so we took coach Williams to Hardee’s on the turnpike. He got sick and threw up.
“He (Williams) never let me forget that,” Konzem added with a laugh.
Konzem emerged quickly as Williams’ go-to person in the KU athletic department. Konzem worked on the men’s hoops schedule and served as what some have called Williams’ “problem solver” if Williams needed anything for his program.
Williams — he wound up coaching 15 years at KU and 18 at North Carolina — remains close friends with Konzem. In fact, Konzem served as Williams’ official “host” during Williams’ recent National College Basketball Hall of Fame induction weekend in Kansas City.
In September, Konzem also made the trip to Wichita to sit at Williams’ table when Williams was enshrined in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
“Coach (Williams) was exceptionally organized. He planned everything out,” Konzem said. “We got along well because I understood that, knew what he wanted and how he went about doing things.”
The search for Roy’s replacement
Konzem was working for Jennings, then the KU interim AD, when Williams left for North Carolina; KU needed a hoops coach immediately after the end of the 2002-03 college hoops season.
“I saw Bill (Self) on the sidewalk outside our hotel at the Final Four,” Konzem said of the 2003 Final Four in New Orleans. “We were on our way to dinner before we beat Marquette in the (NCAA) semifinals and we stopped and talked (for) 45 minutes.
“I remember talking to Deb (Konzem’s wife) after I spoke with Bill and said to her, ‘If our job is open, if coach Williams leaves, Bill would definitely be interested.’ Of course the job did open up,” Konzem added.
Konzem was the KU representative who phoned Self’s employer at the University of Illinois to ask permission to speak with Self about KU’s job opening. Self left Illinois after three seasons to coach at KU.
“These are special coaches and individuals in coach Williams and Self. Both have been unbelievably successful. (They are two) different personalities but the results are the same,” Konzem said. “It’s been a privilege to be associated with those coaches and the program.”
It only took six days after the resignation of Williams for KU to reach agreement with Self.
“It was fast,” Konzem said. “I called 20-some KU players to see what they were looking for in a coach, who they thought we needed to hire. We spoke with guys like Nick Collison, Jacque Vaughn, Mark Randall. We spoke to Jay Bilas (announcer and former Duke player). He thought it was important Kansas stay elite in basketball and had some insight to give.”
As a KU student, Konzem worked for legend Bob Timmons
A native of Salina, Kansas, Konzem graduated from KU with a degree in business in 1980. While at KU he served as a student manager for the KU track team, coached by legend Bob Timmons.
“I was coach Timmons’ equipment manager. I led the league in laundry. I did laundry for 75 guys on the track team every day,” Konzem said with a laugh. “On Sundays I’d put the laundry in, get it washed, throw it in the dryer, go to church, come back and the clothes were dry. Coach Timmons was probably the most focused and intense guy I knew. If there was one word I’d say to describe him, it’s passion.
“Coach Waugh was my mentor both in the administrative part of it and life. I like to say we walked the fairways of life together. Occasionally we got in the rough, but mostly in the fairway. He was special to me, as was my high school (basketball) coach Dave Lindsey, and Ross Randall (former KU golf coach who helped Konzem make his adjustment to coaching golf).”
Konzem, wife happy living in Lawrence
Konzem has lived with his wife, Debbie, in Lawrence the past many years. He made the daily commute to Atchison when he worked for Benedictine and Kansas City during his years working for Rockhurst University. He has two children: Scott (and wife Rachel) in Washington, D.C., and Sally (husband Andy and granddaughter Molly) in Salem, Oregon.
“There’s been a great balance in academics and athletics at schools where I’ve worked,” he said.
Of his years at Rockhurst, Konzem, 64, said; “I’ve got former players (from the men’s and women’s golf teams) who are doctors, lawyers, people working with youth. As I approach age 65, it’s not about the victories and losses, it’s about the relationships.
“Three weeks ago I got invited to the wedding of the first women’s golfer I recruited at Rockhurst. We had the best reunion. Her teammates were there and parents of teammates were there. We didn’t talk about what anybody shot on the course, just the years we spent together. Those relationships were the important thing.”
Konzem has served on the Board of Directors of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, Sunflower State Games, United Way of Douglas County and the City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation. He was a member of the 2004 Leadership Kansas class.
An avid golfer, he will work a part-time job in retirement for the PGA. In fact he’ll be working the American Express PGA golf tournament Jan. 16-22 in La Quinta, California.
Rockhurst appreciates Konzem’s service
“Richard has been a great steward of Rockhurst athletics. We appreciate his years of service. Throughout his time at Rockhurst, Richard always operated with integrity, pride, and professionalism,” Rockhurst athletic director Kristy Bayer said in a release.
“He has dedicated his professional life to elevating student-athletes, both as people and as athletes. He has built a tremendous golf program full of tradition. He has had a career to be celebrated. We wish Richard and Debbie a wonderful retirement,” she added.
Of his career in athletics, Konzem, whose last day at Rockhurst officially will be Dec. 31, stated that he’s “been fortunate to spend every day in a career that was a passion” for him.
“Rarely, did I feel like I was going to work,” Konzem said. “The association with students, athletes, coaches and staff has been the biggest blessing. In addition to my parents and grandparents, coaches and athletics administrators have had the biggest positive influence on my life. I’m thankful for their mentorship, both personally and professionally.
“The opportunities I’ve had through a career in collegiate athletics have given me a lifetime of outstanding memories and relationships.”