By his own admission, Tom Butters has some critics. There are those at Duke University and some , who have left the school who say he'll do anything to advance his number one cause in life: Tom Butters.

At the same time, there are others, most importantly his employers, who look upon the 41-year-old athletic director as the savior of Duke athletics.

"tom simply has a tremendous talent for raising money," Charles Heustis, university vice president, once said of him."He's good at it and he knows it. And he's done a helluva job for us."

When Butters was hired as an assistant athletic director in 1971, Duke was about to start into the greatest athletic depression in its history. In 1973 the football team had its worst record ever (a 2-8-1 mark that was matched this year).

That same year the basketball team also had its worst record ever; its first of four straight last place ACC conference finishes.

Throughout that period, Butters was out raising money. Amazingly, he succeeded. Formed in 1971, the Iron Dukes were soon on a par with most of the fund-raising organizations in the country and just a tad behind the older, established ACC groups.

"You need three things in order to raise money," Butters says. "You need a product you can sell; you need to believe in that product -- and I do -- and you need to believe in yourself, which I do."

And so, Butters, a former major league pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates who still looks like he could break off a mean curve ball, began turning heads with his fund-raising success.

By 1976 the Iron Dukes were raising close to $500,000 annually, in spite of the atrocious records of most Duke teams. It also became apparent that Butters felt he was ready to become an athletic director somewhere.

When other schools began expressing an interest in Butters, Duke officials began to worry. Butters was promoted to a job in the administration with a higher salary, but his fund-raising duties remained the same.

Six months later, in June 1977, Carl James was fired and Butters was named as athletic director. At the same time Butters instituted a major program designed to endow scholarships in the furture at a cost $100,000 each.

"For the past 34 months we've been bringing in $110,000 a week," Butters said recently. We've been raising about $6 million a year.

There are those who dispute Butters' figures. They point out that much of the money is in insurance policies and endowment funds that will not come to fruitation for a number of years.

"I'm interested in cash on the barrel-head," Clemson's Bill McLellan said. "I can't be worrying about the year 2000 and how much money I'm going to have then. I have to worry about 1980 first."

Butters readily concedes that he is not receiving $6 million a year, cash in hand. But he insists that Duke will be better off with its long-range plans than schools that are simply trying to raise cash on an annual basis.

"Some people have said that I'm mortgaging the present to ensure the future," Butters said. "I really don't believe that's true. We're still raising Iron Duke money annually.

"I honestly believe that these kinds of programs are the future of intercollegiate athletics. I think it would be a mistake to raise $1.1 million one year and say let's go for $1.2 million the next year.

"With inflation and the economy the way they are, that's going to catch up with you eventually. I think these programs are the future of Duke athletics."

Butters is a picture of intensity. He chain-smokes. He speaks emotionally when he talks about his workand he admits, "I'm tired, I wish I wasn't trying to run the athletic department and do the fund-raising at the same time.

But he isn't about to give up either job. "I wouldn't ask someone else to do what I do. They would say i'm crazy thinking I can raise that kind of money. I'm no genius, I'd like to tell you that I am. But I'm good at what I do."

Another fund-raiser put it this way: "Tom Butters missed his calling. He should have been an evangelist. He could sell hockey pucks on the equator."

The success or failure of his fund-raising efforts will probably not be determined for several years. Money at Duke is still tight today, but if the Butters projects -- including a $4 million renovation of the decrepit football stadium -- work out, there could be a march to his door for advice.

"If people come to see me for advice I'll be glad to tell them what we've done," Butters said. "I want to see all intercollegiate athletic programs succeed."

With that, he lit another cigarette and smiled his most evangelical smile.