It is hardly the philosophy of football coaches like Vince Lombardi and George Allen, but for Ted Vactor, head football coach at the University of the District of Columbia, it is emminently sensible.

"We try to keep the program in perspective," said Vactor, who once ran back kicks and played defensive back for the Washington Redskins.

"We're not trying to be a football power. Of course we're going to try to win, but I'm not going to keep a man out on the football field for three or four hours until he can't see straight. These kids are here to get an education and find a career. That's more important than football."

In three years as head football coach at UDC, Vactor has transformed what had been a chronically troubled program plagued by eligibility and recruiting irregularities into the soundest program in the school's history.

Moving this year from the NCAA's Division 3 to Division 2, UDC's Firebirds will play their toughest schedule yet, and Vactor admits to some concerns that he may be in over his head.

"My only problem now is did we reach this level of scheduling too fast," he said. "I know our team will be improved. I don't know that we've improved to the level that we're scheduled."

With a 7-3 record last year -- 17-9 during the span of Vactor's coaching career -- UDC has added such schools as North Carolina Central University, Knoxville College, Delaware State College and Johnson C. Smith University to its 1980 schedule.

"We're playing mostly small, black colleges," Vactor said, "the kind of schools that many people in this area attended before they migrated to D.C. We think there might be people in the area who would like to come and see their old school play."

Four of the team's 11 opponents are North Carolina colleges, and the Nov. 8 game against Fayetteville State University has been designated "UDC Salutes N.C. Day" complete with country style barbecue on sale at the Dunbar Stadium concession stands.

A gifted runner and defensive back at Nebraska, Vactor signed on as head football coach at UDC midway through the 1977 season after six years of Redskins duty and a season with the Chicago Bears between 1969 and 1975.

He inherited a program in substantial disarray. Frequently, the full complement of players would number less than 30, and more than once a man had to be assigned to both defense and offense. Coaches had considered themselves lucky if 10 veterans from the previous season showed up for opening practice each year.

Two years earlier, the head coach had been reprimanded when an investigation disclosed he had made improper promises or implied promises of financial aid to out-of-state football players. In 1970, the team had forfeited its last seven games when a majority of players on the roster had been found to be academically ineligible.

In those years, said Vactor, most of the players were part-time students, many of whom were trying to hold down full-time jobs. Practices tended to be hit-or-miss affairs with athletes drifting in and out as their schedules permitted.

"We had a high turnover," Vactor said. "It is very difficult to participate in athletics, study and hold down a job, but our players had to have some money and they had to pay the rent."

Since he's been aboard, Vactor has tried to concentrate his efforts on the younger just-out-of-high-school players instead of the older players who had started college as many as five or six years after graduating from high school.

He's been working closely with the city's high school coaches, a group that has been especially helpful, he says.

A record 35 veterans are returning to the squad, and Vactor estimates total participation at round 100.

"Our goal will be to get those young men out of here in four years with degrees so they can compete in the job market," Vactor said.

"You can learn a lot of things from football, but it's not only from winning. From football you can learn dependability, responsibility and competitiveness.

"Athletics can be a topol that can be very important in motivating these kids. I'll be the first to say that athletics were important to me.

"But I also want the young men to be able to concentrate on their studies. I want them to realize what they are here for. If we can do all that and create some school spirit and have an interesting season, then I would say we have had a successful program."

Once a prime candidate for football's top money contracts, Vactor injured his knee before his senior season at Nebraska and had to settle for less than celebrity status as a pro. But the experience taught him the value of being able to rely on an education as a backup to athletic ability, and during his six years with the Redskins he managed to pick up a master's degree at Howard University.

It's a lesson he wants to pass on to his players, but he also wants to win.

"You've got to win at least 50 percent of your games. That's the lowest you can settle for," he said. "But I am aiming for 70 percent. You have to have goals. I would like to be 7-4 this season.