Eight years ago Russ Potts came to the University of Maryland and turned its athletic program into one of the nation's leaders in college sports ticket promotion and advertising. Yesterday he left, to start a similar task at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

This time Potts, 38, will be the boss, as athelitic director at the Southwest Conference school. He had been unhappy lately in a subordinate role as assistant athletic director for promotions and advertising under Jim Kehoe at College Park, and had been seeking a head job.

Last week he lost out to veteran Louisville Athelitic Director Dave Hart for the vacant job at Missouri. That school, with a $5 million budget and 48,000 season ticket holders in football, was looking for a veteran administrator. In the respect, Potts lacked experience.

SMU got its athletic management in order in the last four years under Dick Davis, who recently resigned. And SMU, with fewer than 5,000 season ticket holders in the 72,032-seat Cotton Bowl, needed a man who could compete against the pros for the entertainment dollar.

Potts was summoned to Dallas on Tuesday night, offered the job yesterday and accepted almost immediately. He has not signed a contract.

"I'm not interested in security, only in opportunity," he said. "It's a tremendous new challenge and opportunity. I've fulfilled an ambition. I have a philosophy that works and if you get the right people around you, you can do it . . . these peole are commited to a top-notch program."

Potts will finish out the month at Maryland and will report to his new job about June 1.

Potts built Maryland's radio network from one to more than 50 stations and his 204-page football and basketball programs are the largest in collegiate sports. He negotiated Maryland's TV and radio contracts and sold the advertising space on its scoreboards.

Dallas may prove more of a challenge for Potts. The professional Cowboys (football), Rangers (baseball) and Tornado (soccer) operate in the Dallas area. FIve other major football schools are within 90 miles. In addition, an arena complex under construction will bring professional basketball and hokey to the city.