Dick Nolan, former coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints, has been contacted by the University of Maryland about the possibility of replacing Jerry Claiborne as head coach, it was learned last night.

Nolan, who as a senior played on Maryland's 1953 national championship team, has not been interviewed for the job, a knowledgeable source in Houston said. Nolan, 49, currently is the defensive coordinator of the Houston Oilers.

The source said Nolan was uncertain whether he would be interested in the job. One reason is that he has not coached on the collegiate level. The source said that Maryland's inquiry about whether Nolan might be interested in returning to his alma mater came "as a shock to him."

Nolan was said to be flying east last night to visit his father, who is in his 80s and recently underwent eye surgery. The source said Nolan also might renew old acquaintances at College Park.

Dick Dull, Maryland's athletic director; Ladd Herzeg, Houston's general manager, and Nolan were unavailable for comment last night.

When Claiborne resigned Dec. 16 after 10 seasons to become coach at the University of Kentucky, Dull said he wanted a coach with a wide-open offense philosophy who could help fill Byrd Stadium.

Nolan, a star offensive halfback-defensive halfback at Maryland, played nine seasons as a defensive back in the National Football League. He has been a defensive assistant at Dallas, New Orleans and Houston.

As a head coach, he had outstanding quarterbacks who passed frequently--John Brodie at San Francisco and Archie Manning at New Orleans. Nolan coached the 49ers for eight seasons. He won National Football Conference West titles there in 1970, '71 and '72 and was named NFC coach of the year in 1970. His record was 54-53-5.

After working for a year in the Oakland Raider organization, he became linebacker coach at New Orleans in 1977 and was elevated to head coach there in 1978. His 8-8 season in 1979 was the best in the history of the franchise. He was fired when the team was 0-12; it finished 1-15 under Dick Stanfel. He joined the Oilers this season.

Nolan has been mentioned by some boosters as an ideal replacement for Claiborne. Nolan and Jack Scarbath, who chairs the Athletic Oversight Committee of Maryland's Board of Regents, were teammates.

It could not be ascertained last night whether Maryland has contacted anyone else.