An hour after Maryland had restrapped the athletic director's harness on him yesterday, Jim Kehoe was met by a longtime friend, who, with a twinkle in his eye, immediately turned to Barbara Kehoe and said:

"My condolences. I see you're going to be a widow again."

"You're the first to say that," she said. "But it's probably very accurate."

She also was smiling. Little boys do not dream of running athletic departments these days. Bright and industrious men blanch at the notion of trying to break even financially with collegiate costs soaring and the entertainment dollar being strangled from every direction.

Chairman of the Chrysler Corp. might be a more appealing job than college athletic director at the moment. Capping Mount St. Helens might be just a bit harder. Nothing in sport surely is more difficult.

And yet anyone with more than a casual understanding of Jim Kehoe knows his delight at being named "acting" athletic director at Maryland. Less than two weeks shy of age 62, he will serve in that capacity until the school finds somebody better. Given his record before he retired two years ago, that won't happen for a century or two.

Kehoe is more than rigid. Once formed, his ideals are welded. "I came here with short hair and bright sport coats," he told the reporter from the student newspaper, "and that's how I'll go out."

He is inclined toward sermons about subjects especially personal, such as his return to the job he handled as well as anyone for more than nine years:

"I've been there once, what have I got to gain? I've asked myself that -- and I've been asked that by a hundred people. It's just that Barbara went to Maryland, my four kids went to Maryland. I went to Maryland, I competed for Maryland (on the track team, from distances of 880 yards through two miles). I've lived my lifetime here.

"This is important to me. And I have a feeling. There's a dimension and a commitment about that, for me, that" -- here his voice rose passionately -- "nobody from anyplace else could ever possibly have. And probably very few from here." He lowered the tone and added:

"For whatever it's worth."

Perhaps only someone with a terrapin stitched to his heart could be pushed into becoming athletic director. But grim as his assignment seems, with a fine football program that rarely fills a rather small stadium, with men's and women's revenue sports desperately in need of ever-dwindling revenues, Kehoe has known worse.

This assignment ought to be a snap. In fact, something he can tidy up and still keep those tennis dates and hunting trips he enjoyed in retirement. Kehoe endured more in the weeks before his first appointment became official -- a mutiny by the football team against its coach -- than most athlatic directors experience in a career.

He not only balanced a budget when other schools were staggering financially, but also put back $1.5 million in construction and improvements.

"I've been through it all, man," he said. "I was sweating out horrible problems before he" -- he looked at the student reporter again -- "was born. I've been into confrontation and rebellion and revolution. I'm no novice in this business. I know how tough it can be.

"I know what it's like (having to fire) a guy who's been on your track team or who you've played bridge with. I know all about those things. But the guy you invite into your home to play bridge with might not be the guy you want to run your store.

"And when you let your heart and emotions dictate decisions, you're in trouble. That's why it's tough. That's why it's tough, my friend."

Yet he is anxious to begin again.

"Yes, it's days and nights," he said. "I've already got my bed down there (in the athletic department offices). It'll be around-the-clock sometimes. But I have a deep commitment to Maryland. This is very important to me.

"And it all comes down to the bottom line. In football and basketball, you win or you lose. An athletic director is either in the red or is in the black, and it has been mandated -- an absolute, nonnegotiable mandate -- that the intercollegiate athletic department at Maryland will be in the black.

"I have never had one that hasn't been in the black." His successor, Carl James, who will leave Maryland to become commissioner of the Big Eight Conference, has a deficit estimated at nearly $400,000 this year. But the football team failed to play in a bowl game for the first time in six years.

"Whether I can do that again (generate a surplus of funds each year) remains to be seen. But you can bet it's gonna be worked at awful hard."

In football, the problem is how to attract as many paying customers as possible. When Russ Potts was promotions director at Maryland, the idea simply was to coax fans into Byrd Stadium with giveaways, hoping next time they would buy a ticket.

As athletic director at SMU, Potts has been using the same tactics. Some football opponents are grumbling that while Mustang Mania seems apparent, the game checks have been about the same as always.

To which Kehoe snapped: "Do I have to remind you that they just dropped three (nonrevenue) sports and they only had 11? I've read the press reports from down there -- and if you don't think they ain't in the red I've got news for you."

Anyone as firm in his opinions as Kehoe -- and with such a bottom-line approach to athletics -- leaves himself vulnerable at times. At one point yesterday, he said he was disgusted with the academic cheating apparent in major-college sports. But he said the security that coaches need not to be tempted into cheating will not happen.

"Be it right or wrong," he said, "we live in a world where when you win you're great and when you lose you're fired. Now I'm not saying this is the way it ought to be, but we're not gonna give coaches tenure. I don't think it's ever gonna happen. They're not gonna give the Redskins' coach tenure; they're not gonna give Claiborne tenure; they're not gonna give (Notre Dame coach Dan) Devine tenure.

"There are too many (monetary) factors that intrude."

He kept going a while longer, with a missionary's zeal. Then he stopped and shook hands. He acknowledged the renewal of a pleasant adversary relationship, adding with a smile:

"Stay tense."