K-State's interim AD takes over department at crossroads

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Laird Veatch remembers driving to football practice with Kirby Hocutt near the end of their senior year at Kansas State, and they began to discuss what they would do after college.

The seed was planted in both their minds that day to pursue a career in athletic administration, and Hocutt was the first to land a top job, at Ohio. He would later become athletic director at Miami and then return to the Big 12, taking over the same job at Texas Tech nearly six years ago.

It took Veatch until last week before getting his big shot.

The associate AD at Kansas State was given the interim job after John Currie's abrupt departure for Tennessee, taking over at a school at a crossroads. His old coach, Bill Snyder, is undergoing throat cancer treatment, basketball coach Bruce Weber has been on the hot seat all season and another multi-million dollar renovation is already underway at the football stadium.

Veatch insists that walking into the athletic director job in any shape or form, for any length of time, amounts to a dream.

''I feel like I've been working and preparing for this moment and this opportunity for a long time,'' Veatch said before the Wildcats knocked off Texas Tech on Saturday, giving the new Kansas State boss a gratifying win over Hocutt's school. ''So far, it's been a lot of fun.''

The honeymoon period is certain to be short-lived.

The Wildcats head to Kansas City this week for the Big 12 Tournament, where they may need to beat Baylor in the quarterfinals on Thursday to reach the NCAA Tournament. And even if they reach the field of 68 next week, it may take a deep March run to save Weber's job.

The embattled coach has missed the postseason the past two years, the program falling into a cycle of mediocrity. Most believe Currie was leaning toward relieving Weber of his job after the season, but it could be up to Veatch and Kansas State President Richard Myers to make a decision.

Myers, a retired four-star general and Kansas State alum, has only been the president for about a year, taking over when Kirk Schulz left for Washington State. He has never hired an AD, much less a coach for a high-profile opening such as basketball, and nobody is quite sure what his thinking will be when it comes to either position.

Plus, it's easy to fire a coach or an interim AD. It's much harder to hire a replacement - anyone who speaks to Kansas State about the job will want to know who his boss will be.

''However long this last, you'll find I'm a pretty traditional administrator,'' Veatch said. ''The standard has always been you wait until the end of the season to assess and talk about those things, no matter what the decision is. But I expect to be part of it along with the president.''

Veatch will no doubt have the support of Snyder, who not only coached him with the Wildcats from 1990-94 but made him a captain as a senior. Snyder may hold more sway over fans and donors than anyone, including the president, even though he is not a member of the AD search committee.

Whoever is hired may be tasked with replacing Snyder soon, too.

The 77-year-old coach revealed last month that he is undergoing cancer treatment, though he plans to coach the upcoming season. He even attended Saturday's basketball game, standing and blowing kisses to a crowd that gave him a standing ovation when he was shown on the video screens.

There is a chance this is Snyder's last season, and finding his heir is no easy task. That became clear when Ron Prince fizzled following Snyder's first retirement.

These are all things tumbling through Veatch's mind as he shakes hands with fans and donors, and gets to know the ins and outs of the Kansas State athletic department on a whole new level.

''We report to presidents and make recommendations to presidents on major decisions, and that's what I would continue to do in any situation,'' Veatch said. ''Just keep things moving down the tracks. We have a great staff, great coaches, a great program. We're efficient, well-run, so there's nothing there to fix. I'm not into the idea of coming in and changing things and making major changes.''

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