Any ranking of college football's good people has Charlie McClendon in the top 10.

For 17 seasons, he has been the Louisiana State University coach.

Other coaches around the country respect him so much they made him president of the American Football Coaches Association this year.

When the NCAA investigatgors go looking for dirt on people, they never go to Baton Rouge, because McClendon doesn't play that way.

Working in one of America's toughest football conferences, McClendon has put together teams good enough to win 70 percent of their games over 17 seasons.

LSU has played in 12 bowl games for McClendon, twice winning both the Cotton and Sugar bowls.

Cholly Mac's teams have turned out 20 All-America players. Before McClendon, 22 LSU coaches in 68 seasons turned out half as many All-Americas.

As reward for all this, Charlie McClendon is being fired.

After the only two bad years of his career -- LSU won nine games, lost 11 and tied one in 1974 and 1975 -- McClendon was called in by the LSU Board of Suprvisors and given a choice.

He had four years left on a 10-year contract.

He could quit on the spot and be paid off. Or he could stay two more seasons.

The Board of Supervisors did what it thought best for Lsu. It thought firing Charlie McClendon was the thing because an ex-LSU football player told them it was the best thing.

The player was Billy Cannon, who played on LSU's national championship team in 1958 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1959. The coach then was Paul Dietzel. McClendon was an assistant coach.

Cannon now is a dentist in Baton Rouge who, like thousands of people in in this state, thinks he knows how to run a big-time college football program.

Because Cannon once could run with a football in his hands, the Board of Supervisors believed he knew what he was talking about.

Making speeches around the state, Cannon told whoever asked that McClendon could not recruit, that LSU was losing too many good Louisiana players to other schools. Why, Cannon asked, did Terry Bradshaw, of Shreveport, go to Louisiana Tech and not Lsu?

Cannon said McClendon could not create an offense worth the name. Too conservative, McClendon was a nice guy, sure. Cannon gave him that. But Coach Mac was too nice; he would not fire longtime assistants who were incompetent.

Whenever Cannon spoke to the Kiwanis, or the Ortary, people would ask him if McClendon could motivate his teams. The kids get themselves up for big games, Cannon would answer, but in the basic week-to-week games they were not good enough to beat good teams. No recruiting.

So Cannon went to the Board of Supervisors and begged them to let McClendon go.

Not long after, the board gave McClendon the quit-now-or-take-two-years proposal.

The board never dreamed McClendon would stay on.

Why would a coach want to twist slowly, slowly in the wind?

But McClendon took the years, hoping somehow to win enough games to please the people who believed an ex-LSU football player.

In both those years, LSU had 8-4 records and went to bowl games. Charles Alexander, a running back, was an All-America both seasons. Alexander is a Texan from Galveston. Not a bad recruit by a coach who can't recruit.

This season is a grace season for McClendon, given him at the urging of the new athletic director, Paul Dietzel, who said Charlie was too nice a guy to cut loose the year he became president of the coaches association Embarrassing that would be.

Of course, when McClendon is the ex-president Dietzel will wave bye-bye and bring on a new coach who will be asked to do all those terribly important things Charlie McClendon could never do.

Such as:

Win a national championship.

Beat Alabama.

Beat Alabama.

Win a national championship.

Someone asked Charlie McClendon why he is being fired. "Is it because you didn't win a national championship?"

"Either that or I didn't beat Alabama," McCldndon said.

Someone asked Billy Cannon if the forces that fired McClendon are hungry for a national championship.

"Maybe some of the people here are spoiled," Cannon said, "but they don't want a Southeastern Conference contender, they want a national contender."

There it is. Naked ambition. No rah-rah stuff. No romance. None of this character-building claptrap. If you can't give Alabama a run for the national championship, don't plan on coaching at LSU.

This is business.

It has nothing to do with college and education and moral values. Winning 70 percent of your games for 17 years is not enough in Baton Rouge. Producing 22 All-Americas and 12 bowl teams is not enough. They even knock you for being a nice guy. Can't beat Alabama? Join the club, Cholly Mac.

"We wouldn't have a Southeastern Conference if they kicked out everybody who didn't beat Alabama," McClendon said with a chuckle. "But people here aren't interested in what's gone on at other places . . . These people here will never stop. They think because it's LSU, it's the best there is. They better get out around the country and see what's going on."

McClendon played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky in the late 1940s. In 15 games against his old coach, McClendon has won twice. Which is twice as many victories as any other Bryant pupil has achieved against the Bear. Bryant's pupils are 4-35 against him. McClendon has lost eight straight to Alabama.

"I certainly am disappointed they're firing Charlie," Bryant said. I think Charlie is good for football. I think he meant a lot to football. I don't understant them getting rid of him. He's an excellent football coach, been one for a long time, and just one of the finest people that ever lived.

"I don't really see how he put up with what he has down there for that long."

McClendon took his children into LSU's Tiger Stadium not long ago.

He took them down to seats painted purple, where common folks sit.

"These are the $10 gripes here," coach said.

Then he took his children to seats painted gold where big-money contributors sit.

"These ate the $1,500 gripes. They're a little worse than the $10 gripes."

McClendon laughs about it. But it hurts. He is 56 years old. He has given 17 years to the LSU job, the last three when they hung him out to dry, and it hurts to be told you can't do the one thing you want most to do. But he laughs when talks about it. "Gotta keep our sense of humor or we'd all be in the bug house," he said.

McClendon said he would't want to be the next LSU coach. Grant Teaff of Baylor has been mentioned, as has Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz of Arkansas, Lee Corso of Indiana and Darryl Rogers of Michigan State.

"I feel really sorry for the next guy," McClendon said, "because the expectations are going to be so high. He's gotta be a better cocah' than I was."

The man laughs, but it hurts, and he is proud of what he did here. "I hope I'm still living, but I'll probably be dead by the time the next guy wins as many games as I did."

McClendon did it without cheating.

"The NCAA never picked up the telephone once to talk to me," McClendon said.

That will change, the coach believes.

"LSU has to make a decision if it wants to get to the rat race or not."

The rat race? Is that a way to say cheating? To win the precious national championship, will the next LSU coach have to cheat?

"I think he would have to," McClendon said. "Paul Dietzel says the next coach will be honest and loyal. If he is honest, then LSU better set its sight down from any national championship. Recruiting, that's where he'd have to cheat."

Billy Cannon asked why Terry Bradshaw did not attend LSU.

Because Charlie McClendon would not cheat.

Bradshaw could not qualify academically for a scholarship to LSU, and McClendon would not cheat to get him in school.

The cheating, the firing of coaches whose only sin is that they don't win national championships, the hell-fire race for big money -- all of it controllable, McClendon said.

"It's the college presidents who can get it back in focus," he said. "They have to say, 'This has to come to a halt.' . . . My whole expisode hasn't helped college football, other than maybe some people can see how ridiculous it is.

"Look. If a former student went to the university president and said his biology professor was not good, do you suppose the president would fire that professor?"

No. But when a Heisman Trophy winner tells everyone who asks that the coach is no good, everyone believes him, especially if everyone lusts for the Bear's blood on a national championship trophy.

"It's almost win at all cost; we don't care how you do it just don't get caught,'" McClendon said.

So he doesn't mind leaving if he's not wanted here. $"I won more games than any coach in LSU history. I gave LSU my best. I don't owe nobody nothin', and that's why I've accepted it as easy as I have."

There is a statue behind McClendon's desk. It is of a slump-shouldered man in a battered hat with his coat draped over a shoulder. He is carrying a suitcase. The man has seen the end of the world and is walking away from it wearily.

"Coach Mac packed to go," Coach Mac said of the statue. He laughed at that one. He doesn't know what he will do next year. LSU, which still must pay him $50,000 each of the next two years, has offered him an assistant athletic director's job. He doesn't know if he'll take it. Maybe someone can use an honest coach who won 70 percent of his games for 17 years.