Jim Kehoe was formally named the University of Maryland's acting athletic director yesterday and it took him only a few moments to make clear his No. 1 priority; balancing the athletic department's budget.

"I've never run an athletic department in the red and I certainly don't intend to start now," Kehoe, 61, said shortly after the school's Board of Regents had formally appointed him to the job from which he retired two years ago. "If I had to list my 10 top priorities, eight of them would be balancing the budget."

When Kehoe left College Park in 1978 as the result of a conflict with Chancellor Robert L. Gluckstern, Maryland's athletic department had made a profit in all nine years of his tenure. This fiscal year, the program, under the direction of Carl James, will finish $400,000 in the red.

James, Kehoe's successor, resigned May 5 to become commissioner of the Big Eight Conference. Kehoe will assume the AD duties June 1.

Yesterday's Board of Regents meeting was a formality; Kehoe had been recommended by the search committee set up to find a successor to James and was also the choice of the regents' athletic committee. Although the search committee will continue to exist and will alleged continue to look for a "permanent" replacement, sources at the school said yesterday that it is only a matter of time until the "acting" is removed from Kehoe's title.

Kehoe never left the university's payroll after leaving the athletic director's job. He remained in contact with the College Park campus as an athletic consultant to Maryland President John Toll. During the last year, he has been athletic director at the school's Eastern Shore campus, where he successfully balanced the budget, although the school will not field a football team this fall.

During Kehoe's absence, the Maryland athletic program has run into numerous budget problems while trying to cope with the problems of implementing Title 9, the federal law barring sex discrimination in athletics. iAt the same time, Maryland's men's varsity teams, once preminent in the Atlantic Coast Conference, fell to the point where the school finished fourth this year in the Carmichael Cup voting, symbolic of overall excellence in ACC sports.

"The last time I was there (Maryland), we managed to do well and stayed in the black," Kehoe said, "I hope we can do that again but I don't minimize the difficulty. I'm going into the job with positive but cautions optimism."

One of Kehoe's first jobs will be to find a successor to Frank Costello as track coach. Costello's resignation becomes effective the same day Kehoe takes over, June 1. There was some speculation yesterday that Kehoe will try to talk Costello out of his decision to resign. Costello cited Title 9 as a reason for his resignation but reportedly he did not get along well with James.

Kehoe, who has been associated with Maryland for more than 40 years, first as a student, then as coach and athletic director, coached Costello when he was on the Maryland track team and hired him as track coach.

Kehoe also said that he was satisfied with the quality of the football and basketball programs, run by Jerry Claiborne and Lefty Driesell, respectively. Both men were hired by Kehoe. He added that he planned to return most of the responsibility for basketball scheduling to Driesell. The coach and James argued this year over scheduling, Driesell feeling James was adding too many tough nonconference games.

Kehoe said the first thing he planned to do was go over each of the 23 varsity team's budgets to see where costs could be slashed. "I have one nonnegotiable mandate," he said, "I must have a balanced budget."