General Manager Bobby Beathard said yesterday he would suggest strongly to the new coach of the Redskins that Richie Petitbon be retained and promoted to defensive coordinator.

Beathard said Petitbon, the secondary coach on Jack Pardee's staff, "can work with anyone who came in as our head coach. He is very qualified for the position. But the final decision, of course, will be made by the head coach." p

Defensive coordinator could be a key position on the new staff since it is likely the next coach will be offensive-oriented, the type favored by both Beathard and owner Jack Kent Cooke. Normally, if the coach concentrates on offense, the defensive coordinator has great control over his unit. Joe Gibbs, offensive coordinator for San Diego, currently is the leading candidate to replace Pardee.

Although it might seem unusual that the club would be recommending assistants before hiring a replacement for Pardee, Beathard said it "is important that whoever is the head coach has a chance to talk to the best qualified assistants available. We just don't want to lose some good candidates while we are going through a selection process for a head coach. It makes sense and it's done all the time in these cases.

"You just want to let people know, 'Hey, we think you are good and why not stay available until you can be interviewed by the Redskins?' We want a pool available from which he (the new coach) can make selections."

Beathard said there is no guarantee that Petitbon, or anyone else contacted by the Redskins, will be hired by the new coach.

"Neither guy may like each other," he said. "Or the head coach may have his own mind. He's got the final say in such matters. And everyone we talk to about being an assistant realizes that."

Petitbon's secondary led the NFL in pass defense this season, an accomplishment that made a strong impression on Cooke, who is convinced that good coaching can make up for a lack of talented players.

Although Beathard would not comment on the matter, sources say Cooke is willing to spend the money it would take to gather the caliber of staff he has in mind. He is said to believe that Philadelphia, for example, has become a potential Super Bowl team more because of the work of its coaching staff than because of the players' abilities.

Since the Redskins will be going through a transition next season, as the average age of the players is reduced, Beathard said it is vital the new coaches "are teachers and motivators. They have to be teachers from the ground floor up. We need people who can recognize potential and then will take lots of time to bring that potential to the front.

"We consider our assistants to be critical parts of building the right kind of team. The staff is going to be really important to us."

Beathard said Petitbon "has a keen sense of being able to design a defense against the type of offenses we will be facing in the league. He certainly has proved he can make a secondary jell. He's a motivator and he relates well with players.But he's also demanding."

Petitbon joined Pardee's staff after assisting in Houston. He was the NFL's prototype strong safety when he played in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.

Like the rest of Pardee's assistants, Petitbon has moved out of his office at Redskin Park. He has a year remaining on his contract. Yesterday, he said he was waiting for job offers to come in. "I don't know what will happen," he said. "I'm not committing myself to anything. Bobby was speaking for himself, not for me."

Beathard said he had been in touch with other possible candidates to become assistants here, but declined to name them.

Meanwhile, the Redskin general manager is continuing to sift through requests for interviews by candidates for the job as coach. He has interviewed Floyd Peters, Detroit defensive coordinator, and plans to talk to Rod Humenuik, Cleveland offensive line coach; Bob Zeman, Denver linebacker coach; George Perles, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator; Bud Carson, Los Angeles defensive coordinator; Paul Lanham, Los Angeles quarterback coach, and Dick Coury, Philadelphia receiver coach.

Many of those interviews will take place next week prior to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Beathard said any talks he might have with Gibbs and others whose teams are still in the playoffs would have to wait until their clubs were eliminated.

"This is going to take awhile," he said. "We aren't in that much of a hurry. The names keep coming in every day and now it's a matter of deciding who I want to talk to before recommending people for Mr. Cooke to interview. We don't want to exclude anyone who could help us."

Cooke said he planned to interview "a number of candidates, as soon as Bobby recommends them to me. We are currently appraising the qualifications of a number of men. I have no timetable to this, no deadline."