Moyer Smith, associate athletic director at North Carolina, is a University of Maryland advisory panel's top choice to succeed retiring Jim Kehoe as the Terrapins' athletic director, it was learned yesterday.

The committee, sources said, ranked the four remaining candidates in the following order at a meeting yesterday.

Smith, 39, former football player and coach at UNC who has been in athletic administration at his alma mater since 1974.

Carl James, who resigned under pressure as athletic director at Duke University last year and is currently executive director of the Sugar Bowl football game.

Bill Campbell, former Maryland swimming coach and professor who retired two years ago to enter private business on a full-time basis.

John West, athletic director at Furman.

A source said the committee will meet again Tueaday before making its final recommendation to Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern. The committee's support yesterday for Smith was described by one source as "strong." When he appointed the advisory panel, Gluckstern asked it to submit four-to-six names.

Another source said the selection process was being delayed so that John Toll, who becomes university president July 1, has a hand in the decision. Wilson H. Elkins retires as president at the end of this month.

Under the selection process, Gluckstern makes his recommendation to the president, who acts on it and then submits it to the athletic committee of the Board of Regents. Then the full board has to approve the selection before the job can be officially offered.

That process, sources said, may take as long as two weeks. The Board of Regents meets today and is not scheduled to meet again until August. But B. Herbert Brown, chairman of the board, said it would not be difficult to convene a special meeting.

Kehoe retires September 1 and university officials want the new athletic director on the job well before then in order to effect a smooth transition.

Sources said Smith impressed the committee with his interview and because he comes from a program with a long winning tradition. James is a distant second, the source said, on the basis of his previous experience.

"Campbell's candidacy, sources said, was hurt by his "frankness" with the committee. Campbell reportedly upset some committee members by telling them he would increase the mandatory student athletic fee if chosen. The fee was a major source of controversy under Kehoe.

Reached at an athletic directors meeting in Vail Colo., Smith said:

"I haven't determined in my own mind whether I'd except the job if it's offered. I have some concerns about living in that area. I'm a semi-rural North Carolinian. I'm concerned about my family. I don't place any job above what's best for my family."

Smith was among the final three candidates for the athletic directorship at the University of Missouri earlier this year.

He was a halfback on North Carolina teams in the late 1950s under Jim Tatum, who left Maryland for Chapel Hill.

Smith coached high school football in North Carolina for six years and then joined Bill Dooley's UNC staff for six more. He went to Florida State as an assistant coach in 1973 and returned to UNC the following year as assistant A.D. for business. He became associate A.D. in 1976.