Prominently displayed in the athletic department office at the University of Maryland when Jim Kehoe took over as the department's director almost 12 years ago was a framed quotation from sportswriter Grantland Rice.

"When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name . . . he marks not that you won or lost, but how you playes the game."

"I took that sign down the first day," Kehoe said. "It does matter whether you win or lose.

"I am committed to winning. I am of the Lombardi school. Winners are the people who have a greater desire. They make the sacrifices, they work harder and they are willing to pay the price. Anything you do, you should want to be the best."

At 62, James H. Kehoe Jr. is winding down an atheltic career at Maryland that has spanned more than four decades, beginning in 1936 when he lettered in track and cross country as a student at College Park, picking up again as track coach after military service in World War II and then, finally, capping his career as director of athletics.

On Aug. 31. Kehoe will retire, finally and irrevocably, he says, to his cottage on Chesapeake Bay and to his mountain cabin in Colorado for a slower-paced existence of backpacking, tennis and mountain climbing."I've seen so many people overstay their time. You only live once and not that long. It is time to step down."

He has retired before, in September 1978, but then agreed to stay on as a consultant, as a special adviser to the department of athletics at the beleaguered University of Maryland-Eastern Shore and then as a one-year, interim replacement for Carl James, the man who succeeded him in 1978 and then left to become commissioner of the Big Eight a year ago.

This time, his retirement is for real. "It's my final one. You can bet your bottom dollar on it."

Colorful and outspoken, with a penchant for checkered sports coats -- complete with an American flag lapel pin -- brown and white saddle shoes and crew-cut hair, Kehoe is very much the product of his earlier years in athletics, a simpler era when a sports contest was simple a question of winning or losing.

"Now, I agonize over whether we win or lose as far as it will affect ticket sales, national standings, NCAA bids, television contracts and advertising," he says. "It's not like it used to be. Everything is a crisis. If you win, you sell more tickets and people contribute to your booster club. If you lose, they complain, they don't buy tickets, they don't advertise in your programs and you don't get on television."

Brought back from retirement last year to work at erasing a $400,000 budget deficit in the athletic department, Kehoe says his replacement will inherit a clean slate in the fall. "I did what I set out to do. We are back in business."

It was a difficult, demanding and not altogether pleasant assignment, but it was done without cutting any of the 21 sports in Maryland's $5 million athletic program.

"I know how this department operates. I hired everybody in it, and i held them to their budgets."

He is less sanguine about the outlook for the future.

"Costs have gone up 50 percent in the last four years, and you just can't raise your ticket prices 50 percent every four years. There are just dozens of schools that are dropping dozens of sports because they can't pay the bills. Villanova has dropped football.

"We may see an expansion of the intramural programs and a reduction of the intercollegiate programs. I am concerned about this and I am concerned about the future of intercollegiate athletics. But you didn't used to have this tremendous, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, battle for fiscal survival."

He is particularly concerned about Maryland, he says, because its location places it in one of the most competitive markets in the world for the sports dollar. "We've got the Redskins, the Bullets, the Capitals, the Colts, the Orioles and a racetrack on just about every corner. This is not Clemson in South Carolina or the University of Nebraska. When the Redskins are playing in Sunday, win or lose, the media doesn't get around to college sports until Thursday."

It is also a fact, says Kehoe, that the college programs feel pressure from the professionals in areas other than competition for the sports dollar. Recruitment of college players is a prime example, and Maryland's standout basketball center, Buck Williams, who elected to forego his senior year at Maryland for a chance to turn professional, is a case in point.

Kehoe says he agrees with Lefty Driesell that the professional leagues are biting the hand that feeds them by recruiting players before their college eligibility has expired. In the long run, the level of professional competition would be improved if every professional honed his athletic skills for four years in college, he says.

But there is something else about professional sports that Kehoe finds even more disturbing -- the high salaries being paid professional athletes.

"I can't conceive of a world where a man is worth $15 million. The professional sports leagues are going to crucify themselves."

An army officer during World War II, Kehoe later became a lieutenant colonel in the reserves. He prefers dealing with men who carry out his orders, not question them, and he is still occasionally addressed as "colonel."

Similarly, he prefers the order and discipline that sports imposes on its participants as a basic philosophy of life. "You can't go out and do your own thing. You have to recognize rules and authority. You have to be on time for practice."

There are some professions and lines of work where performances are sometimes blurred, and it is hard to tell, for example, whether one doctor or accountant is better than another. Not so in athletics, by Kehoe's reckoning.

"You have to stand up and be counted. You either win or you lose," said Kehoe.

"It should come as no surprise to you that I am a conservative," he observed, after an hour of conversation in his office at Maryland's Cole Field House. "I was pleased with the results of the last election. When things are not going well, you need a new game plan and maybe a change in personnel."

By his own admission, he tends to view issues in terms of black and white, right, or wrong. A nonsmoker and a nondrinker, he pulls a sheet of paper from his desk drawer. "For years, I have been asking people to list for me the benefits of smoking and drinking," he says. "I have never found any."

He is intensely proud of the fact that although the Maryland athletic program was operating at a deficit when he took over in 1969, he left it with a $378,000 surplus when he retired for the first time in 1978. He is also still resentful of federal efforts to mandate improvements in women's athletics under the auspices of Title IX, but his quarrel is with the notion that the government is tellilng him what to do with money he raised. As a matter of principle, he insists, he supports equality of athletic opportunities for women.

But it has always been coaching that he enjoyed the most, and the secretaries in his office still address him as "coach."

"I enjoyed coaching much more than this," he says. "Coaching is where you can be with people; work with a boy and see his time improve. Here, it is all management and budgets."