The coach of the Forestville High School football team, whose star player died of a cocaine overdose Feb. 13, was placed on leave yesterday after it was reported that he had been convicted of a drug possession charge in 1974.

Eric Knight was placed on administrative leave while Prince George's County school officials investigate whether he had falsified an employment application with the school system by failing to list the drug conviction.

Knight pleaded guilty in 1974 to one count of conspiracy to possess marijuana, according to a report broadcast last night by WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

At the time he was a 23-year-old student at the University of Maryland, according to the television station.

The station reported that the coach "says he answered no" to a question on his 1975 teaching application that asked whether he had ever been convicted of committing a crime.

School spokesman Brian J. Porter said last night that falsification of employment records is grounds for dismissal. "We're surprised by this information and had no forewarning," he said.

Knight said last night that his attorney had advised him not to comment.

According to the Channel 9 report, Knight had served seven days in the Prince George's County jail and 28 days in the state correctional system before being paroled.

He had received a six-month sentence.

Knight, who went to Forestville High when it opened in 1981, spent three seasons building a team, and then rapidly won recognition as one of the most successful coaches in this area.

In their last three seasons, his teams had records of 7-3, 11-1 and 8-3.

Rico Marshall, a star running back on last season's team, died Feb. 13, after telling a friend that he had swallowed about half a dozen small chunks of crack, a cocaine derivative, to escape detection by police.

After Marshall's death Knight told reporters that he had warned his players numerous times about the dangers of drugs.

He also held a closed meeting with seniors at the school Feb. 16, at which he said he urged girl students not to encourage boys to hustle drugs by accepting expensive gifts.

"All that is telling them that it's okay to deal, and Rico died in vain," he reported saying to the students.

In an interview last night, Leroy Marshall, the dead player's father, criticized the idea of raising at this time the issue of a possible drug conviction in the 1970s.

"I think it's ridiculous . . . going through {his} background like that," Marshall said, calling the coach "a fantastic-type individual."

"What counts is what he's doing now, not what he did . . . years ago," the father said.

"Why not let sleeping dogs lie . . . . "

Staff writers Jeffrey Yorke and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz contributed to this report.