Roderick Hills, the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, yesterday stepped down as chairman and chief executive officer of Peabody Coal Co. after less than a year at the company.

The decision, which was announced in a press release last night, was reached after several days of negotiations according to a company executive. Hills, 47, will remain a consultant to the $1.2 billion coal company.

Hills, joined the company last August.

Robert Wallace, Peabody vice president for planning, suggested that Hills' insistence that he commute between his home in Washington and company headquarters in St.Louis contributed to the decision.

Hills' wife, Carla, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Ford administration, is a partner in the Washington office of a Los Angeles law firm.

Reached in Los Angeles, Hills said "we've been discussing this for several weeks now. The issue was whether I could keep a semblance of family life."

Hills said "my assumption was within a short period of time I could have moved my staff to Virginia" [from St. Louis]. But he said that the coal strike last winter so disrupted the newly formed company that the move had to be put off indefinitely.

Peabody said in its release that Hills' successor as chief executive will be Robert Quenon, who currently is president. Frank Coolbaugh, the president of the holding company, will become chairman of the coal company as well.