Richard Dull, the new athletic director at the University of Maryland, said one of his first priorities when he assumes his job Aug. 1 will be to improve the academic standing of the school's athletes.

In an interview yesterday, Dull said, "Too many student-athletes are majoring in being eligible," and promised to push to recruit more scholar-athletes.

"I would be derelict in my duties if I didn't get student-athletes more involved in academics," Dull said.

Dull said a study two years ago showed Maryland athetes to have a higher grade-point average than the average student on campus. No figures were available.

But, he said, he still wasn't satisfied with the overall academic achievements, and would seek improvement.

Jerry Claiborne, Maryland football coach, said the image of student-athletes as dumb jocks was less prevealent than it used to be and he welcomed Dull's initiative.

"That's certainly my viewpoint, I'm glad to hear him say it," Clairborne said when told of Dull's statements.

Basketball Coach Lefty Driesell said he thought Dull's ambitions in the academic area were "great." But, Driesell said, "I don't know who he's talking about. In my 12 years here, 99 percent of my players have earned a degree."

Two of the three seniors on last season's basketball team -- Ernest Graham and Albert King -- have not yet graduated.

Dressed in a three-piece pin stripe suit ("I don't own a plaid sports coat," he said, in reference to predecessor Jim Kehoe's usual attire), the 37-year-old Dull outlines his plans -- plans, he says, that do not stray far from the Kehoe line.

"This university has been blessed to have a man like Coach Kehoe," Dull said. "He's been a very positive influence on my life." As a track coach, Kehoe recruited Dull 18 years ago from his Biglervill, Pa., high school. Dull liked the place so much he stayed on for law school.

After four years of practicing public interest law for seniors citizens and the legal aid society in Baltimore, Dull wanted to come back to Maryland, despite the "less lucrative" nature of work within higher education.

In 1976 he took a position in the business department with one eye on the athletic director's slot. "Athletics have always been my first interest," he admitted.

When the directorship opened this year after Kehoe's second retirement, Dull pursued it. Some observers said his close identification with Kehoe could have hurt his chances -- in fact, could have ruined them, had Bowling Green's James Lessig not turned down the job when it was offered by Maryland.

Kehoe had at times cut a controversial figure on campus. He presided over the initiation of the unpopular student athletic fee, complained that Title IX was financially strapping college athletics and reportedly had been at odds with the university's chancellor, Robert L. Gluckstern, for quite some time.

"I don't accept the fact that if I was a second choice it was because I was Kehoe's man," Dull said. "Even it it was true, remember Vince Lombardi and Dick Vermeil wasn't the first choice of UCLA . . . I don't mean to put myself in the same category with them, but it goes to show that who is first does not often mean much," Dull said.

Dull predicts that his tenure as athletic director could last many years and will differ in several ways from Kehoe's.

"My style may be the most noticeable change," said Dull, sitting behind his desk in the office of nonrevenue sports (translation: any sport other than men's football and men's basketball). "Kehoe is a hard-changer, very opinionated. I think you'll see my approach being a little more low-key."

Low-key is a good description for Dull. A bachelor, he maintains an apartment in nearby Greenbelt, visits his widowed mother in Pennsylvania every other Sunday afternoon and jokes that he is "not a party person."

Dull bass fishes in the upper reaches of the Potomac and vacations every March in Long Beach, Calif., where he watches Grand Prix car racing, but never takes the wheel.

"I've thought about it on a fantasy level," Dull said. "But I don't know if I'd have the moral courage to stand on that accelerator the way the drivers do."

With 28 days left until he takes over Maryland's $5 million sports program, Dull says he is planning several immedidate changes.

"My position is predicted upon balacing the athletic department's budget," he said, sounding like Kehoe. Dull says he will mount a massive directmail campaign to sell season football tickets. He also plans to spend $75,000 on a television and radio blitz of Western Maryland and Baltimore to lure crowds.

Dull vows to open talks with Navy to reinstitute the football rivalry that, he says, would be a guaranteed sellout and could attract state-wide attention. "I'd like to see the game played in Memorial Stadium," Dull said. "This institution has suffered state-wide by being labeled a Washington school. I'm interested in providing our product to Baltimore."