Hechinger Co. named its third chief executive in less than a year yesterday as the ailing chain of home improvement stores struggles to survive in a world of discount competition.

The management changes came as a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware approved a $700 million line of credit for Hechinger after working out creditor objections.

Richard J. Lynch Jr., former president of also-ailing Sports Authority Inc., was named chief executive, and Don Stallings became president and chief operating officer. The promotions were the latest in a series of top management changes over the past year and the first since the Largo-based company filed for protection from its creditors last month under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code.

Stallings had previously served as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Lynch, 47, who in recent months has served as a consultant to Hechinger, replaces Mark R. Adams, who resigned from the company "to pursue other interests," according to the company. Adams had succeeded Mark Schwartz, who left in February to head a New York supermarket chain.

Adams could not be reached at his home in Millersville. A company spokesman said he did not know where Adams was.

Hechinger filed for bankruptcy after several years of losing sales to rivals Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos. The retailer has announced the closings of more than 100 stores, mainly its unprofitable Builders Square outlets. Area stores being closed are in Gaithersburg, Temple Hills and Glen Burnie.

In a prepared statement, Lynch said his mission is to develop a reorganization plan that will "win creditor approval and return the company to a healthy financial footing and more competitive posture." It wasn't immediately clear whether Lynch, who declined to be interviewed yesterday, planned to follow his predecessor's strategy.

Adams had hoped the company would emerge from bankruptcy with a leaner and more focused retail operation. Hechinger would focus on both its HQ Home Quarters warehouse format as well as a division of smaller "community" stores, he said at the time.

By hiring Lynch, Hechinger has brought in an executive with more than two decades of retailing experience. Lynch served as chief financial officer of W.R. Grace & Co.'s western home center division and was chief financial officer at Sports Club Inc. before joining Sports Authority in 1988.

Starting as vice president and chief financial officer, he rose to become chief operating officer and president in 1996.

Last fall, however, Lynch and the sporting goods chain agreed that he should step down, without giving an explanation.

His departure came as Sports Authority, owned by New York-based Venator Group Inc., struggled to boost its sales. The market for sporting goods has been hurt as young shoppers have opted for clunky Steve Maddens rather than Nike shoes and Tommy Hilfiger instead of shirts emblazoned with sports teams' names.

Hechinger's troubles, however, come as the home improvement industry is booming, and at least one analyst questioned whether yesterday's management changes would be enough.

"The question is, will more merchandising experience help Hechinger or are they so financially stressed that even a new merchant can't turn the company around?" asked Kenneth M. Gassman Jr., an analyst with Davenport & Co. of Richmond.