Buck Rodgers is out as Milwaukee Brewers' manager, Harvey Kuenn is in. Seems that when Rollie Fingers talks, people listen.

"That's probably the last nail in the coffin," said Fingers--steaming in Seattle after Rodgers brought in lefty Mike Caldwell, not stopper Fingers, to face Bruce Bochte with two out, man on second in the ninth--and Bochte singled to tie a game the Mariners eventually won. And so it was the last nail, that 14th loss in 20 games for the Brewers.

They won the next night, but G.M. Harry Dalton said yesterday the team was not "playing up to what we think is its potential." So, never mind Rodgers' leading the Brewers to 1981's second-half AL East title: Kuenn, 51, the old batting champ and, since '71, Brewer hitting coach (with brief time out for a leg amputation), was in Stockton, Calif., tutoring prospects when told to fly to Seattle and assume the job Rodgers inherited from George Bamberger Sept. 9, 1980.

Dalton titled Kuenn "interim" pilot but, "full manager in every sense, tenure open-ended. We told Harvey to take the club and run with it." Isn't every manager temporary?

Chuck Fairbanks, as promised, took over as coach, president, part owner of the New York ???s, first of 12 to be named in the United States Football League that begins March-through-July play in 1983. He, owner J. Walter Duncan and G.M. Jim Valek, Fairbanks' Colorado colleague, now look for a place to play. Inquiries are in at Shea, Yankee and Giants stadiums. "We will not draft underclass players," said Fairbanks. "I don't want to interrupt or interfere with the universities or colleges, even with a Herschel Walker available." Nor, he said, with players under NFL contract . . . Newly free: ex-Patriot Harold Jackson, 14 years an NFL flanker, several under Fairbanks. Useful in USFL?

Colorado interviews Drake Coach Chuck Shelton (27-28 in five years, 10-1 in '81) today about coming in to build from the 7-26 ashes of Fairbanks' curtailed tenure . . .

New NHL coach, Whalers: Larry Kish, up from Binghamton to lighten Hartford load of Larry Pleau, who now can concentrate on directing operations . . . Died, just shy of 80: Charlie Gooch of Cheverly; '29 Senators infielder (39 games, .281).

Dave Gavitt, Big East's part-time commissioner, is quitting after 11 years as athletic director at Providence to be full-time commissioner . . . Georgetown, basketball pride of Gavitt's league, received its Widmer Cup as Eastern champ here yesterday . . . Dave Odom, head coach at East Carolina, mulls quitting there to join Terry Holland's Virginia staff in place of Craig Littlepage, Penn's new coach. Odom and not Perry Clark off Dick Harter's Penn State staff? Clark is a former De Matha player and aide, and Morgan Wootten told the Lynchburg News, "If I ever took a major college head coaching job, the first person I'd hire would be Perry Clark. And I told Terry Holland that." Maybe Harter, who likes Clark's 1982 recruiting--e.g., McNamara's 6-7 Terry Graves--talked him into sticking . . . De Matha's current buzz is "Roast Franks"--testimonial banquet for Jerry Franks, Stag football coach for a decade until joining Naval Academy staff this spring; Friday, K of C Hall in Bowie.