Gary Tranquill, the offensive coordinator at West Virginia University, emerged yesterday as the apparent leading candidate to replace George Welsh as football coach at the Naval Academy, after Athletic Director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge told three of Welsh's assistants they had been eliminated from consideration.

On Wednesday night, before Navy lost to Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl in Welsh's final game at Navy, Coppedge said that only four candidates had been interviewed and that three of them are Navy assistants. He confirmed at that time that Tranquill, the quarterback and receivers coach at Annapolis in 1973-76, had been interviewed twice.

Yesterday Coppedge answered questions concerning Tranquill's status vaguely and said that the Naval Academy Athletic Association's Board of Control might interview additional candidates. Coppedge said he hoped to name a coach by Wednesday or Thursday.

The three assistants are Joe Krivak, quarterbacks and receivers; Tony Whittlesey, linebackers; and Bill Haushalter, offensive backs. Whittlesey said he will join the Virginia staff as linebacker coach; Krivak said he was undecided about his future, and Haushalter said he would not join Welsh's new staff. Welsh, who coached nine years at Navy, asked his entire staff to accompany him to Charlottesville.

"I've made up my mind between two or three, but not exactly which one," said Coppedge, who would not be specific in response to questions about whether Tranquill is the leading candidate.

Tranquill would say only: "I'm just going to wait and see what happens."

Coppedge said that the four interviews he confirmed involved the eight-member Athletics Board of Control. He said he had talked to other possible candidates. He refused to name them or say whether they coached on the college or pro level.

"Now it's a question whether the board wants to interview those people or not," Coppedge said, "and I think they do."

At Maryland, Dick Dull, athletic director who is seeking a replacement for Jerry Claiborne as football coach, said he had hired George Foussekis and Gib Romaine, both defensive coaches, from Claiborne's staff. That means that only Tom Groom, the coach of the offensive backfield, has not joined Claiborne at Kentucky or been retained at Maryland.

Dull still refused to discuss the coaching situation beyond repeating that he has reduced his list of candidates to 10.

Of Foussekis and Romaine, Dull said: "I believe they are the best two recruiters. The thing I care most about now is keeping a hold on the prospective recruits. If the new coach doesn't want them or if there is a personality clash, I'll get jobs for them within the University. I believe the University should provide them some safeguard."