Metro General Manager Theodore C. Lutz, wearing a short-sleeve shirt and pants, placed his overnight bag in front of his desk and leaned back in his chair. His reputation, he explained "was on the line."

It was only minutes before the first rocket would explode over the Mall, and Lutz was pacing back and forth in his office, urgently explaining to a reporter howhe had to avoid the July 4 Metro system delays that provoked confusion and frustration last year.

Moments later, his phone rang and an excited voice told him the entire Metro rail system was shut down.

Lutz learned that the shutdown, which was corrected in about 20 minutes, happened after three youths fought with a Metro guard over a beer cooler they tried to take into the subway. Metro authorities shut off the system's power when the youths tried to escape by racing along the hazardous electrically powered Metro tracks near Federal Triangle station.

Just a few minutes later, Lutz received another call, and another excited voice told him a Metro train "has gone dead" in the system's busiest station just as fireworks spectators began leaving the Mall.

Lutz listened intently to a description of the problem and then stationed himself in Metro's control center in front of video screens that monitor Metro trains. He watched as dispatches rerouted trains around the stalled Metro cars and waited until the situation was resolved.

Back upstairs in his office, he again paced back and forth, declaring that his next critical decision would be to either close down Metro trains at midnight or let them run later to serve the passengers.

"If they (fireworks viewers) are late and I let the metro system run past midnight, there is a possibility that the trains will not be completedly checked for morning commuters," said Litz.

"I'll get it from the press if tonight's crowd is late getting home," which happed to thousands last July 4, "or if morning commuters are delayed . . . It's negative 5 for 1 and negative 50 for the other," he said.

As it turned out, dspite the minor delays, Metro officials cleared thousands of fireworks watchers from the Mall by bus and rail just after 11:30 p.m.

They did this by placing reserves of buses in critical locations and adding cars to subway trains to handle the number of fireworks watchers flooding the system from the Mall area.

Overseeing this operation was Lutz who capsulized his first nine months as the youngest manager of a major transit system in the U.S. during quiet moments Monday night.

"It's been tough, with the bonds, with Congress, with delays and now right after opening up the Blue Line, we may have to shut down the whole system because (James) Gleason (Montogomery County executive) won't pay his share of the Metro budget," Lutz said.

Lutz, who paced his office, straightening pictures and complaining about his hectic schedule of weekly board meetings, pointed to his desk and said: "It's a good thing perks are not important to me . . . Look at this desk; it is GI surplus."

Reflecting back to his job as deputy under-secretary of Transportation, Lutz said "in those days your office was bigger and the press wasn't bugging you about a trip you took to San Diego at taxpayer expense."

According to Lutz, when he was chosen to head Washington's Metrobus and subway authority, it was financially troubled and inextricably tangled in a web of controversy.

"When I took over, by main knowledge was in the area of financial bonding of the Metro system," said Lutz, who boasted: "I saved their butts in that area." Lutz wrote the original legislation that provided for Metro bonding when he was in the Office of Management and Budget in Mr. Nixon's administration.

Otherwise, Lutz was a newcomer to managing a mass transit system. He has had to rely on men with years of experience in their fields such as Thomas Trimmer, who is director of Metro buses and Ralph Woods, who heads the transit system.

"I just look at the problems of Metro like the average guy on the street . . . and sometimes I think that is the most valuable thing I can bring to this system," said Lutz. "When I start sounding like an expert that is the time for me to leave."

Lutz said his "average guy" approach enabled him to tell other Metro officials that the information signs in stations "just weren't working for the public."

Lutz said he stressed the "human side" of building and running Metro when he took over last November. He said he rides the Metro System home from work. "The bus drivers know whether you ride and it gets around," Lutz said.

He said he has made a special attempt to visit bus terminals and talk to bus drivers since the opening of the new rail line "because it has made Metrobus drivers feel like a stepchild," Lutz said.

"The glamor of the new equipment can really capture your attention."

Looking back on his decision to head Metro, Lutz said he chose to do it because it would give him "front line experience before he was 34-years-old," because it would provide him with national exposure and because he had the financial expertise to handle the job.

"I guess it is also because I believe in God and I feel He wants me to do what I can as the head of Metro," Lutz said.

Lutz, who periodically did a baseball pitcher's wind-up as he walked through Metro headquarters and even called The Washington Post sports hotline during the Metro delay to find out how the Minnesota Twins were doing that evening, said he was making a real attempt to be open with the press.

"I know the former general manager would have never let the press be in on major decisions like tonight. Maybe I'm going too far the other way, but I feel it is the right thing to do," he said.